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The End of Times New Roman: Font as a Writer

Updated on June 7, 2011

Choosing a font as a writer should not be a difficult task. In fact, the font should be the last item on any writer's list of something to consider.

For every school paper it was always Times New Roman. It was the only typeface I knew. It's the Windows default in Word and even in OpenOffice, which I use, and up to my first novel I wrote with it for everything, even short screenplays. Now I hardly touch the font.

Times New Roman can be accepted by a majority of publishers, as it's accepted as the modern default font, but it's also looked down on by many writers, including myself, who have been made aware that it's a proportional font rather than a monospaced one. This simple fact can affect page count and overall words per page in anyone's work, which can be crucial to getting a piece published if a minimum or maximum page/word count is required of a publisher for a certain story.

The difference between proportional and monospaced fonts is simple: Proportional fonts contain letters which are each of different width, whereas monospaced letters each take up the same amount of space on the page, giving each line on each page the same amount of possible letters. With twelve-point font for Courier, it's given that the average characters-per-line will contain exactly 69 characters, including spaces, giving on average 250 words per page if the margins are correctly set and if the lines are double-spaced.

I'm definitely not a math guy (I suck at math in all forms), but as a writer it is important to figure out the way wordage works visually and in calculation on a page if you intend to send a piece to be published. Because Courier (or now most likely Courier New) has been used as the old school font for typewriters, each letter is spaced to take up the exact same amount of space. Publishers mostly prefer Courier New because it's easily read, is easy on the eyes, and doesn't draw attention to itself like many more elaborate fonts might. A publisher or agent wants to see work that breathes life in the content rather than the word appearance may. It's amateurish to pick a font that sticks out and frankly, as a writer, the way the letters look should be the least of your concerns.

Times New Roman, as I said, can be accepted by many publishers out there, but I'd definitely advise that Courier or some variation of it be used for the sake of word and page count accuracy and precision. The default font HubPages uses is a proportional font, and one way to tell is to highlight each letter in a word on this blog and notice that many will take up a smaller highlighted area, like the “t”'s and “f”'s being thinner than other letters, and even some punctuation marks are fatter than others. With a font like Courier, some letters may look smaller than others, but in actuality all characters are exactly the same size.

It can take some getting used to if you aren't used to the Courier font, as it feels old-fashioned as much as it looks so, but then the content becomes the focus of your work. Hell, I've written this blog in Courier New, but it's because I'm used to it.

It's also good to take note of the fact that underlining in certain work, especially when using Courier, is more preferred than italicizing anything when attempting to get something published. The main reason this rule started was because typewriters were unable to italicize at all, but now it's pretty much for the sole purpose of being able to see what you want italicized when an editor reads it. Let the editors do the italicizing and underline the words you want to emphasize instead. It's much easier to miss an italicized word on the screen than you may think, most notably with Courier as its font isn't meant for that.

On the topic of italicizing, it's also worth noting that underlining spaces between words shouldn't be done in any case, regarding film or album titles or otherwise. I did this for a while, but on taking a manuscript preparation class I learned to correct this fault very quickly before sending anything out.

I haven't personally been published anywhere yet, only having one unpaid credit for a short story appearing in my first college's literary publication this year, but I'm sending out stuff from time to time while honing my craft, working on a fourth novel, and I can safely say that adapting to Courier New (or Courier) should not be a challenge for a writer who takes his or her work seriously.

Interestingly enough, the font for graphic design and advertising is by default Helvetica, with Arial being its Microsoft clone. You can find this font on virtually every ad out there and for most company names such as “Verizon” and appears in nearly every sign on the streets today, though ironically it's not what a writer uses. There's an interesting documentary called Helvetica about this font in particular, which I definitely recommend if you want to know more about the different kinds of typefaces you use and see every day and the art behind constructing them. I never realized until watching Helvetica--which is currently on Netflix Instant--that it took so much technicality and artistic aesthetic to create a font, but then again it kind of makes sense.


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