Font for Grant Application
March 23, 2005 12:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm submitting an NIH grant application, should I use Arial or Times New Roman? [MI]

The part of the application that involves Word templates uses 11 pt. Arial and my sponsor does likewise (claims sans fonts are kinder to reviewers). My Graduate advisor loathed sans fonts, and banished them from the lab (thought people who used them had no taste). Would changing to Times New Roman for the proposal section (10 pages crammed very tight) be jarring? Globally switching to Arial will involve some work (opening graphs, tables and illustrations and changing axis labels and such).
posted by 445supermag to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
I can't remember if Times or Arial mattered, but I once had an NIH grant sent back because I didn't have the requisite number of characters per inch and lines per inch. I think I was slightly below 11pt trying to squeeze as much as I could and I got caught.

Luckily, they let us resubmit.
posted by SheIsMighty at 12:51 PM on March 23, 2005

I work in industry and for our NIH grant applications, we use Times New Roman, specifically because it isn't Arial. This allows us to distinguish between the questions/instructions and our responses. However, for tables and graphs, we frequently use Arial because the sans works better for the small font size labels.
posted by junesix at 12:52 PM on March 23, 2005

Supposedly, it's easier to read serif fonts on paper. I'd go with junesix's suggestion.
posted by greatgefilte at 12:59 PM on March 23, 2005

I recently went to a presentation in which several people who have reviewed NIH grants repeatedly stressed that you should follow the NIH's instructions to the letter (heh), and that you should avoid being cutesy with the formatting. Reviewers look for any reason to get out of reading a proposal, and something as banal as problems with font size and style gives them an excuse to do so.

So, from the NIH's FAQ:

4. Does NIH make a recommendation for a font to be used?

No. Since there is variability in the fonts available in word processing programs and printers, NIH does not make a specific recommendation for a particular font. However, NIH has established parameters of letter height (point size), characters per inch, and lines per inch that need to be applied to determine if the font selected and printer used produce acceptable output. It is very important for investigators to measure all three parameters on the printed page and not rely on the settings chosen in a word processing program. If any aspect of the computer system used is changed, including the printer, the type should be checked again. Each parameter of type - height of letters (point size), characters per inch, and lines per inch - needs to be checked.

5. The computer settings I normally use produce an output that does not meet the NIH format requirements. Are there suggestions that will help me do so?

Although specific computers and word processing programs may vary, practical experience indicates that fonts most likely to cause problems are Times New Roman, Courier, and Palatino. If the measured output does not meet the established requirements with one of these fonts, a different font should be tried. Fonts that seem less likely to lead to problems include Arial, Bookman Old Style, and Helvetica. Right justification also may lead to an increased number of characters per inch.

posted by googly at 1:11 PM on March 23, 2005

What junesix and googly said. I think it would look odd if some sections were in arial and some in times new roman. Sometimes we've mixed them, but just for tables (we use arial narrow).
posted by jasper411 at 1:13 PM on March 23, 2005

I just read almost a hundred grant applications in the Canadian system - my heart dipped at the arial ones -- I find it much harder to read. Try very hard not to cram it all in -- it sends a message of "I am desperate to show you I know, I really really really know, what I am talking about" and/or "I can't see the forest for all these damn trees". It might just be me, but applications that ended half a page short showed confidence and concision.
posted by Rumple at 1:14 PM on March 23, 2005

I just carefully searched the instructions, and they suggest Arial or Helvetica. As a test, I copied a sentence 3 times, using Times New Roman, Arial and Helvetica in 12pt. I can see no discernable difference between Arial and Helvetica. The Times New Roman is much smaller, in fact, it appears to be the same size as 11 pt. Arial.
posted by 445supermag at 1:16 PM on March 23, 2005

... RIGHT justification? Surely they mean full jusification.
posted by nathan_teske at 1:16 PM on March 23, 2005

An absolute rule of thumb: Never use arial for anything longer than a single sentence. Headlines: Sans serif. Body copy: serif.
posted by shambles at 1:16 PM on March 23, 2005

Times New Roman, specifically, is nearly a condensed typeface, designed to fit more into a narrow newspaper column. If you're facing restrictions on small type, measure very carefully. This may be why they recommend Bookman Old Style over TNR.
posted by mendel at 1:19 PM on March 23, 2005

All of the NIH grant applications I have been part of (4 or more) have used Times New Roman, 11 or 12 point font.
posted by picklebird at 1:23 PM on March 23, 2005

The Times New Roman is much smaller, in fact, it appears to be the same size as 11 pt. Arial.

That's largely because TNR has atrociously short ascenders and descenders; compare them to just about any other serif face and you'll immediately see the difference. TNR is great for newspapers and bad for everything else, in my opinion.

The differences between Arial and Helvetica are difficult to see at 11 or 12 points, but they exist and still affect the wway both are read. Helvetica is a superior font; Arial is merely a rip-off.

As for what to use on the application, I can't say. Is it more important that it look good and read well, or that you follow their rules to the very letter?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:33 PM on March 23, 2005

Times New Roman reads much easier, in my opinion.
posted by odinsdream at 1:34 PM on March 23, 2005

The last two grants I was a part of (one to NIH, one to CDC) were done in Arial 11.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 1:39 PM on March 23, 2005

As an aside, I recommend you use styles when laying out the content in the application so that changing the fonts later is a simple matter. We use DPCustomMono2 for proofing and then switch it back to the appropriate font(s) before sending out the app. DPCustomMono is a font specifically designed to make proofreading documents easier.
posted by junesix at 2:02 PM on March 23, 2005

My friend's NIH grant was done in Arial NARROW 11 pt because they were exceeding the page limit otherwise. Heh.
posted by tristeza at 2:43 PM on March 23, 2005

I've been told that they expect a sans font. It sucks, but if that's what they want, you had better give it to them. So Arial.

You should check the instructions for your particular proposal carefully; they might specify in there.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:54 PM on March 23, 2005

We use TNR 12 pt on most of our applications, and only sneak down to 11 points when we're getting too long (shhh!).

A serifed font looks more professional, "serious" if you will. People are so used to seeing a Times-style font that they tend not to notice your font choice and focus instead on the content. I know that whenever I get a sans-serif document for review, I spend a good portion of the time silently cursing the author and all their descendants.

Do want the reviewers to focus on the neat stuff you want to do, or spend time wondering about your sense of aesthetics?
posted by bonehead at 2:56 PM on March 23, 2005

As a sidenote, for those trying to "cram more in" with an 11pt. font. Changing the size of the font makes it totally obvious that you're trying to get around the guidelines. If you change the linespacing or the margins you'll be much better off.
posted by banished at 7:38 AM on March 24, 2005

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