Typeface / Font
When selecting a typeface it is important to understand that legibility and readability are not the same. Arguably legibility makes a text readable although there is more to it than being able to read the letters. Selecting the most appropriate typeface for a text will make it that much more inviting to the potential reader because some typefaces generate more visual warmth than others. Indeed one might say that this is akin to choosing a reader for a church service who is clear, warm and inviting as opposed to someone else who lacks clarity, is cold and off-putting.
The legibility of a font is determined by the design of the shapes that combine to produce the overall appearance of individual letters so that they are immediately recognisable. Readability depends on how well the letters work together in individual words and within the lines of the text to present a harmonious picture to the reader.
Serifs are the little hooks at the end of strokes and little feet at the bottom of letter stems. It is believed by some that these decorative curly flourishes assist the reading of long texts by guiding the eye from one letter to the next along a line of text. Virtually every professionally published book uses a serif font for the body text with popular examples including Garamond and Georgia.
Sans Serif Fonts
Sans serif fonts such as Helvetica are characterised by plain endings to strokes and flat stems. Lacking visible flourish these fonts are often used for chapter titles or text like a ‘tip’ that needs to be set apart from the main body of the text. Such a change helps a reader to see that some parts of a page are distinct and possibly require more attention. The degree of readability of a sans serif font varies with some creating a less than comfortable reading experience in long texts. However, some of this group are highly legible and considered easier to read for those with dyslexia.
Font sizes are given in points with one point being equal to 1/72 of an inch or 0.3528 mm. When reference is made to a font size of 12 points that is the distance between the top and bottom of an imaginary box, within which all the characters of the typeface can be fitted. In effect, it extends from the top of the tallest ascender to the bottom of the lowest descender.
A range of fonts in the same size (ie 10 pts, 12 pts and so on) varies considerably in both the size and spacing of their characters and that is true even within the same typeface. This means that at the same size different fonts produce sentences of varying length and that has a significant effect on the total number of pages in a book.
Different font designs have in effect a different visual size for the same numeric size and most work well in terms of legibility and readability within a relatively narrow size range. The majority of fonts work well with a size of 10 or 11 points. Fonts that present a small visual size are more difficult to read especially for many older people, those with visual defects and those who simply do not read very often. A larger font is obviously easier to read but beyond 12 pts the text begins to resemble that of a children’s book.
The five sentences above use Garamond, Times New Roman, Calibri, Arial and Verdana respectively, each in 12pt.
Kerning describes the action of adjusting the spacing between specific pairs of characters known as kern pairs. In some fonts, there are pairs such as T and O, which because of their shape are separated by excessive white space creating a less comfortable read. Some fonts undoubtedly kern better than others and most have 2-500 built-in kern pairs although some high quality fonts can have well over 1000 pairs.
Modern word processing programs have a degree of auto-kerning although most like Microsoft Word do not apply it as a default so the user has to enable the process.
Ribbon → Home → Font → Advanced tab → enable Kerning for fonts → set Points and above to the smallest font size used in the document
(kerning is applied to that and all larger fonts)
Leading (line spacing)
Leading refers to the vertical space between lines of text. The spacing between individual lines is a crucial factor in determining the readability of a text but if the space is widened greatly it looks amateurish and significantly extends the length of a book. It is generally considered that the best option is for the line spacing to be slightly larger than the font to increase readability. A good rule of thumb is that the spacing should be equal to 20% of the font size so if that is 10 pt the spacing should be 12 pt. This can only be a rough guide because letter height varies between different typefaces for a given font size. Letter height of a typeface is defined by the x-height, which is the distance between the baseline of a line of type and the tops of the main bodies of lower case letters (ie excluding ascenders and descenders).Typically, this is the height of the letter x in the font but also u, v, w and z. Curved letters such as a, c, e, m, n, o, r and s tend to be slightly taller.
A typeface with a large x-height relative to the total height of the font has short ascenders and descenders, which reduces the white space between lines of text. Sans serif typefaces typically have large x-heights and can therefore seem rather dark, more crowded and possibly more difficult to read. The solution if using such a font is to increase the vertical spacing between lines. By contrast, the ascenders and descenders become more prominent in a typeface with a smaller x-height.
Word processing programs such as MS Word offer the ability to change this spacing to ‘open-up’ the text a little, making it easier for the reader to scan from one line to the next.
Ribbon → Home → Paragraph → Indents and Spacing →Spacing → Line spacing → (make your selection)
The multiple option gives you the greatest control because you can increase the spacing by multiples of numbers greater than 1. Setting the spacing to 1.15 increases it by 15% while a spacing of 2 increases it by 200%. Despite the apparent versatility of the multiple option, most authors tend to prefer the simple option because any other choice including multiple will create problems when converting to eBook format.
Kerning and leading are essential elements in the readability of a block of text yet are usually ignored by authors who self-publish.
Choosing a Font
To be completely satisfied with a font you must print several pages in the format in which your book is to be produced. Do not rely on the screen view because the low resolution of the screen presents the text in a quite different way to the printed form. Place the printed pages in a book of the same size in the same genre to get a feel of how your text reads. Consider the overall impression and then read several pages line by line because a font that seems comfortable for a paragraph or two can quickly become tiring after several pages.
Use only one font for the main text and no more than a couple of ‘display fonts’ for headers/footers, chapter and section headings. The readability of these is less important and a different font and size can give a pleasing effect and help those areas stand out from the core of the text. Sans serif fonts are often used for display fonts.
Keep to industry standard fonts because they work. Among the most suitable are Book Antigua, Garamond and Georgia using 10, 11 or 12 point as appropriate. Times New Roman is a widely used newspaper font because it is easy to read in that format but unsuitable for books.