Serif fonts in scientific graphs
July 27, 2010 9:02 AM   Subscribe

Thesis font question: do I use the same font for the text body and graphs? Any serif-favorites beyond Times New Roman?

It feels wrong to use a serif-font in the graphs - is there an academic standard for this?

I'm pretty much set on using "Times New Roman" for the text body - it's the standard and I suppose my thesis is not the place to get funky in fonts. But: would you know a nice serif-alternative, not too different, yet not as old fashioned that I might want to try?

PS: I checked with the department, and they don't have a preference
posted by mathiu to Science & Nature (17 answers total)
What is the topic of the thesis, and what are you graphing? Your font choice should reflect the tone of the content, to an extent. It's easy to take that too far, of course. It should still be a consideration though.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2010

In all of my recent word processed documents I've used Palatino, I think it looks quite a lot nicer than Times New Roman.
posted by sandig at 9:06 AM on July 27, 2010

It's in business administration and it's mostly bar charts and simple graphs like this.
posted by mathiu at 9:15 AM on July 27, 2010

I've been using a combination of Bembo, Garamond, or Caslon. All look so much better than Times New Roman.
posted by SNWidget at 9:15 AM on July 27, 2010

I (and my coworkers) tend to prefer serif (Computer Modern from LaTeX) for the body text and captions, with sans-serif (Helvetica from MATLAB) for actual graph legend and axis labels. I don't think there's a standard, though.
posted by supercres at 9:18 AM on July 27, 2010

I used Palatino for my MS CS thesis, using the mathpazo TeX package. Figure captions were in Palatino as well, but the numbers in the graphs were in Helvetica.
posted by zsazsa at 9:19 AM on July 27, 2010

Regarding the graphs -- to some extent, it depends on the field. In my department, Arial is far and away the most frequently used font on graphs (although the figure captions are typically the same font as those used for the text body).

My thesis is in Times New Roman too (a font which I don't personally care for, but I feel like you don't want your font to distract and therefore annoy persnickety committee members...) The text body is 12-point Times New Roman with chapter and subchapter headings in bold, the figure captions are 10-point Times New Roman with the "Figure N" bit in bold, and any text that is on an actual figure is in Arial.

You should probably also look at your university's guidelines for dissertation submission and make sure they don't have any specific guidelines on the font front (Times New Roman would almost certainly be OK, but if it's in an unusual font, you might run into difficulties -- it's better to discover this before the deadline for submitting your thesis.)
posted by kataclysm at 9:19 AM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used Georgia. The numbers look a lot nicer than TNR.
posted by Adridne at 9:30 AM on July 27, 2010

Kataclysm, so in your case there would be a differentiation between the text body (Times New Roman), Caption (that is description/title of the graph: also in TNR) and and the actual numbers/text on the axes in a diagram (Arial).

In my example above the "number of procedure" text on the axes would be Arial too, right?
posted by mathiu at 9:40 AM on July 27, 2010

Yes to both your questions. (But, then again, I'm in a different field from you.)

Come to think of it, the best approach may be to see if you can get a look at any theses submitted by recent graduates of your program and see how they did things.
posted by kataclysm at 9:49 AM on July 27, 2010

Here's an example from one of our papers*. Sans serif Helvetica in the graph with serif Computer Modern everywhere else. Graph is from MATLAB edited in Illustrator. Everything else is LaTeX.

* Kahana, M. J., Miller, J. F., and Weidemann, C. T. Recall termination in free recall. Submitted. Full text can be found here.
posted by supercres at 9:53 AM on July 27, 2010

I use Garamond nearly exclusively for everything academic I do. I've generally used bolded, slightly smaller text of the same font for figures and graphs.
posted by strixus at 11:01 AM on July 27, 2010

I did my entire thesis in Arial because I dislike Times even more than I dislike Arial*. Also I was on Windows then and didn't have much of a choice for sans-serif unicode fonts aside from Arial. I also knew that every member of my committee would be able to open the file easily because there wouldn't be any problems using a font that came with Office.

Times is the default font in older versions of Office. It makes it look pretty much like you opened the program and started typing and gave the font zero thought. Like doing your dissertation talk in Powerpoint using the default yellow-on-blue color scheme (in Times).

The new default fonts in the Office suite are actually not bad at all, and are not yet so overused that people will immediately assume you don't know how to change the defaults.

*Feel free to disregard any advice coming from me about fonts. Because I used Arial. On purpose. The shame is weighty.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:44 PM on July 27, 2010

I use serif fonts in graphs unless a journal specifically forbids me to do so. (My field is neurobiology.) I feel that as long as the graph is reproduced at a reasonable size, which for your thesis you presumably have control over, they're perfectly readable and look more elegant than sans-serif. I'm no help with fonts, though, since I still like good old Times.
posted by LadyOscar at 1:10 PM on July 27, 2010

Please don't use Times New Roman. There are alternatives that are much better.
posted by alby at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2010

Garamond and Palatino are both professional-looking and easier on the eye (at least, the jaded, tired oh-Lord-not-TNR-again eye) than Times New Roman. My PhD thesis was in Garamond, with footnotes and captions in Verdana; it's a nice, clean sans-serif font, matches the rounded look of Garamond nicely, and works well small.
posted by Catseye at 2:36 PM on July 27, 2010

Times is designed for a newspaper, ie intended to maximize words per newspaper column inch by fitting characters as densely as possible while still being legible and pleasant to read.
Some trade-offs are made to achieve this - Times would look and read better if it wasn't quite as cramped. You don't need to be making those trade-offs because paper area is not at a premium for your production. Legibility and easing the eyestrain of the reader is your priority.

So what you want is a font that looks like Times, which keeps that familiar and customary style, but which is ok with taking the appropriate amount of space for a more pleasant read that is easier on the eyes, rather than putting a premium on density. You have plenty of options, as people have pointed out above. I like Perpetua.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:44 PM on July 27, 2010

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