Everyone else uses Times New Roman
December 6, 2009 12:11 AM   Subscribe

My SO is about to submit her doctoral thesis. What font should she use?

(Australia, medieval history, if that matters)
posted by pompomtom to Media & Arts (65 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Comic Sans, of course!

She should consult the style manual of her department/institution/field.
posted by phrontist at 12:14 AM on December 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Seconding phrontist that your SO should definitely see if his/her school has a submission guide (most do), but if there's no guide, Helvetica is pretty standard and easy on the eyes.
posted by amyms at 12:21 AM on December 6, 2009

The formatting requirements would be specified by the institution that she is submitting the thesis to. If not, use a classic serif font.
posted by welephant at 12:21 AM on December 6, 2009

her* (hence the "she" in your question), sorry
posted by amyms at 12:22 AM on December 6, 2009

Ah, no Helvetica! In fact, don't use a sans-serif font. Sans-serif fonts are very legible and clear, but they're often times not very readable. Go with a good sans-serif font, like Caslon, Bembo, Sabon, Garamond, Jenson, and so on, and make sure that your line-heights aren't too small.
posted by suedehead at 12:42 AM on December 6, 2009 [7 favorites]

I must agree with everyone who says to go with a classic serif font (assuming that the institution doesn't specify). I'm a book editor and read manuscripts for a living, and sans serif fonts are incredibly hard to read for sustained periods of time. I don't think there's any reason to spend money on a new typeface; Garamond or Times New Roman or the like will be fine. But please, NO HELVETICA or any of its kin.
posted by scody at 12:58 AM on December 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

If there's no requirement, I would go with Times New Roman. You don't want to distract from the content. The standardness of Times New Roman can be a good thing — all your readers are already accustomed to it.

But if you really want something other than TNR, it'd be appropriate to use a typeface designed in the era (and ideally the region) that the thesis discusses. Bembo was first printed in the late 1400s, Garamond in the 1500s, etc.
posted by dreamyshade at 1:06 AM on December 6, 2009

I've read several novels set in Univers or similar; distracting at first but I got used to it by the end of the book. Not the best choice I agree but not unreadable.
posted by hattifattener at 1:10 AM on December 6, 2009

I will reiterate what others have said: no sans serif fonts. Not readable, and not really standard for academic manuscripts.

I used Palatino for mine (because it was my only choice besides Times New Roman and (ugh) Computer Modern) and I thought it looked pretty nice. And yeah, she shouldn't agonize over this choice further, but it's hard for me to resist making a suggestion that the typeface should have something to do with the content, if she happens to have the typefaces available. Adobe Jenson is based on one of the first whiteletter typefaces so it is as close as you'll get to the Carolingian minuscule used for medieval documents. Unless the documents she was working with happened to be in blackletter. She probably wouldn't want to do the whole thesis in a blackletter font, or their descendants the sans serifs.
posted by grouse at 1:14 AM on December 6, 2009

Sans-serif for web.
Serif for print.

And stick to univerally-known (or very close offshoots of) the primary serifs.
posted by june made him a gemini at 1:22 AM on December 6, 2009

In 1997, my English lit professor showed me his manuscript for a book not yet published. It was in Times New Roman with headings in Arial, per the university's style guide.

On the other hand, he's been writing it for over twenty years, so maybe go with Palatino and Univers.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:33 AM on December 6, 2009

From your title: Everyone else uses Times New Roman

I always hate it when someone posts an askme question and someone responds with, "you don't want to do what you're asking how to do," but I'm going to be that guy. Fonts on a doctoral thesis are not the place to get original. You want them to judge the content, and any font original enough to be noticed will only distract them from that. Keep the fancy fonts for design projects. If everyone else uses Times New Roman, use Times New Roman.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 1:47 AM on December 6, 2009 [10 favorites]

For my tastes, Garamond has always been the most readable standard-issue font for print, ever since I became aware of it.
posted by meadowlark lime at 1:49 AM on December 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Times New Roman, Times New Roman, Times New Roman, Times New Roman. This ain't a graphic design project, it's an academic paper.

(Though if you want to make it look bigger, use Courier or something.)
posted by SansPoint at 1:52 AM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I strongly nth those who are saying consult the institution's style sheet. Don't let the font choice distract those who are reading the thesis. If it's anything other than what they are expecting, it is most likely going to have a negative impact -- SansPoint is right, this is an academic paper, not a graphic design project.
posted by asciident at 1:58 AM on December 6, 2009

I used Bembo for mine. It is very, very beautiful, and fittingly classic. But I paired it with a modern sans-serif (Lisboa) for headings. Actually, a typographer friend worked his strange genius, none of it was my idea.

I also cheated and linespaced by 1.5 rather than my institution's 2. The reason for linespacing is to have room for examiners/editors to write, so I left large margins (and hence more readable line lengths).

Oh, and we used Pages, not Word, to lay it out. Pages spaces type a lot more nicely than Word.

One examiner explicitly mentioned the care I'd taken over presentation, so +1 for not doing the 'standard'.
posted by cogat at 2:34 AM on December 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Lucida Bright is a beautiful typeface, and is not unheard-of in academic papers (in Computer Science, at least). I also really like Charter BT, but I've never seen it used in a paper.

But, yeah, definitely a serif, and a relatively modern-looking one (not Caslon, Palatino, Garamond, etc.). If there isn't a standard choice, then it's probably okay to be a little different, but don't overdo it.
posted by equalpants at 2:50 AM on December 6, 2009

It really depends on your field whether Times New Roman is okay or not. They say that, in some areas, job applications using such a no-idea-what-I-did-it's-my-computer-that-does-it-for-me--font go right into the trash (maybe it's a modern myth, but then it is a very good one).
Now, to me, job applications ain't graphic design projects either, but that's apparently the subtlety around the matter: you're supposed to show that you care, although it is not a graphic design project. For readability, in my experience: Garamond. (That's what I used for my dissertation and I still like it, a thousand times more than Times)
posted by Namlit at 3:42 AM on December 6, 2009

Kudos to your SO to be worrying about something this trivial before submitting a thesis. For what it is worth, my uni specified fairly tightly what was required. I would echo what's said above and definitely check - the style guide for thesis where I did my PhD specified margins, headers, heading sizes for each level of layout, text size, line width, font, title-page layout, title-page contents, list-of-tables, list-of-figures, reference style, etc. etc.

I was so close to the deadline I had no time to think about this stuff, but that was OK, because those nice people in Research Degrees Office had done all the thinking for me.
posted by handee at 4:30 AM on December 6, 2009

General Presentation

Students are free to choose any Font that can be easily read. However, the Department recommends the use of Times New Roman (12 point) or Arial (11 or 12 point), since these are easiest on the eye. All essays should be double spaced (abstracts, tables and footnotes should be single spaced). Essays may be duplex printed.

That's what my former (and hopefully future) university guidelines tell me. The answer is definitely to check the insitution's guidelines.
posted by knapah at 4:39 AM on December 6, 2009

I've always liked Computer Modern Roman myself.

Seriously though, everyone saying "whatever's standard in the department/field/institution" gets my vote.
posted by curious_yellow at 4:44 AM on December 6, 2009

Times New Roman isn't as standard as many people think. Few newspapers and magazines use Times, those that do use a non-standard version of Times, and still we can all read them just fine.

Times New Roman is not a particularly readable font, nor does being familiar with it help reading all that much. It's just an ubiquitous font that's OK to read.

Don't be afraid to use new fonts. I'm going to second floam and suedehead's Caslon, Bembo, Sabon, Garamond, Jenson suggestion.

Additioally, I find the Computer Modern fonts to be hilarous and use them sometimes.
posted by krilli at 5:41 AM on December 6, 2009

I think many would argue making perhaps ones greatest work in life so far hideous kind of stinks.

I think we can all agree that making one's doctoral thesis hideous wouldn't be nice. However, I'm not sure it's true to say that many people consider times new roman hideous. I think most people don't notice the differences between a lot of fonts, and hence don't have strong preferences between them.

I doubt Times New Roman is really the standard across the top of academia, although I have no proof.

It's pretty common to see in things like conference paper templates, if those templates have been made in Microsoft Word. Computer Modern Roman is similarly popular, among LaTeX document templates.
posted by Mike1024 at 6:10 AM on December 6, 2009

I just checked my university's policy for dissertations:

Any legible font except script, italic, or ornamental font equivalent in scale to 10pt Arial or 12 pt. Times New Roman is acceptable.
posted by Atreides at 6:26 AM on December 6, 2009

However, the Department recommends the use of Times New Roman (12 point) or Arial (11 or 12 point), since these are easiest on the eye.

And the Department would be wrong. 12. point. Arial. [shudder]

My advice is to find a hardcover novel that you like the looks of. In the back, there is usually a page which describes the font and pt size that was used.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:37 AM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Departmental guidelines all the way.

also, they should have guidelines on margin size, page numbering, line spacing etc. If she doesn't know the font guidelines, then she may not know these...? In my institution, if you submitted your thesis without adhering to the guidelines it would have been handed straight back to you.
posted by gaspode at 7:00 AM on December 6, 2009

The question isn't what looks best to a bunch of people on the internet, the question is what would look best to the intended readers, who are presumably a handful of academics with their own interests and expectations. They're expecting to read a thesis that looks like other theses from this university, and they're expecting the surprises and interest to come from the content not the typography.

This is just a hypothesis, but my guess is that the intersection between the set of medievalists and the set of font-nerds is small. I hypothesise further that the use of a "different" font could garner any one of the following reactions:
  1. None whatsoever (the change is not noticed)
  2. Ooh, this font is LOVELY.
  3. Why are they using a different font to normal? Bah, who cares
  4. Why are they using a different font to normal? Is this allowed in the spec? Let me go check...
I only know a handful of medievalists, but I'm fairly sure they'd all give reaction 1. What you want to avoid is reaction 3 (minor irritation) or reaction 4 (major irritation). Note: Sticking with the departmental norms avoids this dilemma completely.

Hi, I'm on metafilter and I could overthink a plate of serifs
posted by handee at 7:02 AM on December 6, 2009

Medieval history?

Hoefler Text.
posted by thejoshu at 7:35 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I ran through a dozen options for a friend's thesis last year. After explaining what some above have said (this isn't a design project, you want the style to vanish), we settled on ITC Garamond with slightly wider line-spacing than usual. The runner-up was Jenson.

I agree you really want a light touch here, and not to get too creative. Times New Roman looks a bit cheaper to readers simply because it's so common. Using a slightly prettier serif of the same general ilk for me. It does come out looking more like a book, and less like a laser printout, which is usually a good thing to suggest to your readers, if only subliminally. (Also, it'll look better bound later.)

I think the fact it's medieval history makes it a triple-score hit for Garamond, myself.
posted by rokusan at 7:36 AM on December 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Rokusan, yes!

My POV on this is that "Be the change you want to see in the world" applies to fonts also. We are very lucky to be in the position to have some highly concentrated font wisdom here on Mefi. Let's use it!
posted by krilli at 7:55 AM on December 6, 2009

Another book editor here. I agree that Times New Roman is safest. But as I'm also a typophile, I second any of these suggestions from suedehead, unless her departmental guidelines disallow it: Caslon, Bembo, Sabon, Garamond, Jenson.

Ideally, if you're going so far as to use a typeface other than the most basic, you'd have someone with experience in print design go through to arrange the headers, subheads, footnotes and other elements as pleasingly as possible.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:10 AM on December 6, 2009

"submit" as in hand out to her committee (or "distribute") or as in "turn in the final, defended, revised draft" ("deposit")?

As someone who is never not reading a dissertation, I am happy with any serif font, but you had better double space and give me nice roomy margins or you get it back. And use a good printer please.

For deposit, I guarantee the school has rules. The typeface should not call any attention to itself in the deposit draft. Like it or not, a certain standardization of appearance makes it easier to assess the important substantive qualities of the text in comparative ways. Dissertations are read by search committees, publishers and reviewers, and a few specialists in your exact area. That's it. They're not books.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:21 AM on December 6, 2009

(I mean "as someone who is never not reading a diss distrbution draft as a defense committee member, and also almost always reading a ProQuest PDF of a deposited diss as a search committee member, reviewer for a press, or for my own research. Remember that most future readers will encounter your text on screen in a PDF so use STANDARD fonts!)
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:26 AM on December 6, 2009

Nthing the "white paint" suggestion; don't let the font distract from the content. Follow department convention if possible. I'd go with Times New Roman first, or if getting fancy a fine book font; Caslon is lovely. Computer Modern Roman is only appropriately idiomatic for math and sciences papers. If your SO wants to get fancy with typography save it for headings and captions. Good layout speaks much louder than a funky font.

One thing I can add to the discussion: different body fonts typeset to different sizes. Times is quite tight, New Century Schoolbook is quite wide. It can make a difference of 10% or more of the length of the document. Here's a nice discussion.

(And seriously Courier? Helvetica? This is why you don't ask a mob for typography advice.)
posted by Nelson at 8:36 AM on December 6, 2009

Her classmates may use Times New Roman, but they just don't know any better. I doubt Times New Roman is really the standard across the top of academia, although I have no proof.

The doctoral dissertation and thesis office at my large research university says otherwise.

Use Times New Roman.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:42 AM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to side with those recommending a nice, classic san-serif like Garamond. Rokusan has it exactly right: Times New Roman looks amateurish, because it's used almost exclusively by amateurs. You want something that looks professional, but isn't different enough to distract or seem pretentious. If you're submitting a PDF, font availability for other readers should not be an issue.

Obviously if your university's style guide requires a particular font, use that.
posted by serathen at 9:14 AM on December 6, 2009

…classic serif font like Garamond…
posted by serathen at 9:15 AM on December 6, 2009

Palatino Linotype and Garamond come to mind.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:29 AM on December 6, 2009

My SO is about to submit her doctoral thesis. What font should she use?

What fonts does she have access to? Other suggestions are nice, but if the cash poor student (or her SO) have to spend 30 bucks or more a font, that's factor in things.

What format is she required to submit it in? If it's just print outs, I'd go with Garamond, Bemobo, or Jenson, as they're classier than Times New Roman.

If she has to submit a PDF, I'd help to make sure she can embed the fonts or knows how to do that. I'd ask her about it ASAP, and actually have her make PDF of it and take it to another computer (Is she's a school, try printing it at home or vice versa) and try to print it out, just to make sure no font problems are occurring.

Of course, you should definitely check to see what's required. In fact, that should have been known way before now.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:30 AM on December 6, 2009

I'd say... go boring. You don't want it to be noticed. I've always liked Adobe's Times, as opposed to Times New Roman, which is clunky.

I hate it when my students turn in 12 pt Helvetica papers. It just looks too big. Times 12 on the other hand looks very reasonable. Times New Roman less so. Best off all, no one will notice, your paper will just look better.

But really, you can't miss with any of the classic serif suggestions here. Garamond.
posted by cccorlew at 9:33 AM on December 6, 2009

Perpetua is an excellent choice. I use it for anything lengthy I write, primarily because it looks gorgeous and is very readable.

Garamond is a close second, as well as the font I used on my own doctoral dissertation.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:38 AM on December 6, 2009

I think many would argue making perhaps ones greatest work in life so far hideous kind of stinks. I don't think you need to be working on a design project to decide to properly typeset things. Her classmates may use Times New Roman, but they just don't know any better.

Don't know any better? There's nothing wrong with Times New Roman. It's not ugly, it's just common.
posted by delmoi at 10:29 AM on December 6, 2009

Times New Roman looks amateurish, because it's used almost exclusively by amateurs.

Not at all true, sarathen. We're talking about the academic profession, and I can assure you that most academic professionals use TNR for most documents, period.

Indeed, it's the force of conservatism in plain view, because using anything else makes you look like the amateur.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:11 AM on December 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

(But save all this advice, and go wild in your book, OP. If you get lucky, you get some input into the book design from your publisher. The point about dissertations is that it doesn't matter at all; almost no one will read it, and those that do would prefer not to notice the typeface.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:13 AM on December 6, 2009

Times New Roman looks amateurish, because it's used almost exclusively by amateurs.

Oh bullshit, not for manuscript submission. I receive the vast majority of my manuscripts it TNR, and I've spent a decade working with highly regarded professional writers, art historians, and curators from the U.S. and internationally.

The fact that every one of those essays eventually wound up being printed in books that were -- yes -- designed using typefaces other than TNR is utterly and completely beside the point when it comes to manuscript submission.
posted by scody at 11:52 AM on December 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

using anything else makes you look like the amateur.

Oh, and I want to second this. My fellow editors and I have a running list of only-half-joking ways you can tell when you're dealing with an author who's either an amateur or a professional pain-in-in-ass, and "doesn't submit manuscript in Times New Roman" is, in fact, one of them.
posted by scody at 12:01 PM on December 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Summary: This study sought to determine if certain personalities and uses are associated with various fonts. Using an online survey, participants rated the personality of 20 fonts using 15 adjective pairs. In addition, participants viewed the same 20 fonts and selected which uses were most appropriate. Results suggested that personality traits are indeed attributed to fonts based on their design family (Serif, Sans-Serif, Modern, Monospace, Script/Funny) and are associated with appropriate uses. Implications of these results to the design of online materials and websites are discussed.
posted by zentrification at 12:02 PM on December 6, 2009

You haven’t given us enough information. Is the thesis meant to replicate a typeset book, despite being printed on A4 paper, as I’m sure it will be? Is it meant to replicate a manuscript?

No matter what, seven-inch-wide justified text (the default in MS Word) isn’t gonna cut it.

Also, “classic serif font” is almost but not quite a meaningless phrase. Any typeface you choose, and nobody says you have to choose just one, can be undone by thoughtless antitypographic features like neutral quotation marks and underlining.

This is a much more complex issue than you might think.
posted by joeclark at 12:34 PM on December 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Garamond or Minion.
posted by umbú at 12:46 PM on December 6, 2009

Bembo. And if not - nthing that whatever typeface you chose, for a thesis, must be a serif (ie. no arial or helvetica).
posted by jennyhead at 2:27 PM on December 6, 2009

After reading several other people's well-thought-out responses, I hereby officially rescind my helvetica answer.
posted by amyms at 3:04 PM on December 6, 2009

Sabon, Sabon or Sabon.

It's a book. (more) Books are in Sabon (than aren't).
posted by genghis at 7:02 PM on December 6, 2009

Also, what Joe said.
posted by genghis at 7:04 PM on December 6, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed, this sidebar needs to go to metatalk or email folks, or perhaps another AskMe? thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:44 PM on December 6, 2009

Is TNR the standard submission font in the book publishing industry, too, or just the academic world?
posted by meadowlark lime at 11:12 PM on December 6, 2009

It is the standard in book publishing as well. If an author submits a manuscript to me in any other typeface, I must reformat the manuscript before it goes to production.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:14 AM on December 7, 2009

One more strong vote for Times or Times New Roman, whichever's easiest in the software you have. It's rare to see any other font in my corner of academia.
posted by miyabo at 5:45 AM on December 7, 2009

I can't agree more with: Good layout speaks much louder than a funky font.

However, assuming your SO's department does not specify any particular font, I would go with Computer Modern Roman (if your SO is writing in LaTeX), or Georgia/Garamond (if in MS Word/OO Writer, etc.).

Disclaimer: I really detest Times New Roman and Arial specifically due to their commonness and ubiquity. IMHO, nothing speaks "I don't care" louder than these two fonts. But then again, I am biased.
posted by noztran at 6:47 AM on December 7, 2009

I have a friend who is a book designer. She routinely uses Caslon, Garamond and Minon for the text, with more stylized or san-serif fonts for the headings.
posted by ljshapiro at 8:28 AM on December 7, 2009

Some of you don't understand, still. It doesn't matter if it's ugly, unreadable, or common. TNR is the most professional choice for the majority of academic documents, and certainly for a dissertation. It is so because everyone uses it for everything in academia, and academia is a conservative profession in certain respects, this being one of them. Recommending the OP's girlfriend use anything else is an exercise in pointlessness. If she's serious about her professional career, she'll use the boring, ubiquitous font whether y'all like it or not. This is not about beauty; it's about convention. Very entrenched convention. Academic robes are ugly looking too; you can't go to commencement in shorts and sandals either.

I don't love TNR. I don't hate it. It just is. Before we had computers, every manuscript was in the same typeface. It never caused a problem then. It doesn't now.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:36 AM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Some of you don't understand, still. It doesn't matter if it's ugly, unreadable, or common. TNR is the most professional choice for the majority of academic documents, and certainly for a dissertation.

This. The question is about appropriate guidelines for manuscript submission, not about best typefaces for book design. Preparing a manuscript for submission and turning that manuscript into a book are entirely different things. The fact that the vast majority of manuscripts are worked on in TNR during the reading/editing phase does not mean that they will be typeset in TNR if and when they are published.

Or to put it another way: when you read a book set in Fournier, it's not because the author set their manuscript (or their dissertation) in Fournier.
posted by scody at 11:44 AM on December 7, 2009

The thing about manuscript submission versus book design is that for a PhD thesis, there is no "book design" stage. The manuscript itself is bound and put in the library forever. Since pompomtom's SO is in the humanities she might be planning on submitting the material for a book later. In the sciences it is a bit different since there usually is not republication in book form. And we are also required to typeset any equations ourselves, which I think gets reviewers used to the idea of something that looks nicer than Microsoft Word Times New Roman. Not that they would take points off if something was in Times, but it definitely isn't a convention in science theses in the same way fourcheesemac is describing, and not using it will not result in raised eyebrows. So while the norms in the humanities appear to expect Times New Roman, anyone else reading this with the same question in the sciences should take that with a grain of salt.

While in general I think people probably put more effort into the presentation of their thesis than is necessary, there are all sorts of aspects of one's life where something utilitarian will do the job but people nonetheless seek something more aesthetically pleasing. I am personally glad that I took the time to make mine look nice.
posted by grouse at 12:27 PM on December 7, 2009

I've never seen a document produced by an experienced humanities scholar that was set in any font other than Times New Roman. I can say with near certainty that using anything else will negatively affect how your dissertation is received.

Besides that, it doesn't matter. Times New Roman is a perfectly functional font, and to claim that any other font will offer noticeable gains in readability is to impose an essentially aesthetic opinion that is wrapped with a false veneer of technical concern. Aesthetics are important, but in the case of both dissertations and books they are audience-oriented: just as you might choose a font for a book based on its prospective audience, your choice of font for your dissertation should be chosen the same way. In this case, your audience overwhelmingly calls for Times New Roman. Don't dissapoint them.
posted by invitapriore at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2009

Mod note: few comments removed - metatalk is a decent option here, so is email.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:03 AM on December 8, 2009

Here's a thought: forget all the claims about what is professional and what is not.

At this stage your SO should have a decent list of other people's PhD dissertations. Does any of these look appealing? How about finding a dissertation whose typeface and layout your SO likes and then mimicking it (well, not necessarily to the fullest extent)?

Think of it as collecting good ideas from people who had to go through this ordeal, too.
posted by noztran at 3:10 AM on December 10, 2009

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