Writing for Business and Industry




10 Common Typography Mistakes

11 Essential Tips for Good Print Typography

Use of bold and underline with fonts

Bold or italics

Font classes

Fonts come in two major classes: serif and san serif, plus display fonts which are special purpose.

The serifs are the little tails on the letters, which help to lead the eye across the page and visually connect the letters in a word together. Although information designers have had a centuries old debate on whether serif or san serif is best for body fonts, the general consensus is to use:

Font examples

Serif fonts

San serif fonts

Display fonts

Font tone

Each font carries a visual tone which effects how the reader perceives the document. Using a font that has the wrong tone for the document's purpose will affect how the reader responds to the content.


Each font comes with a set numbers (obviously) which is designed to fit the overall tone and formality of the font. Numbers can be divided into two different styles: old style and modern (lining figures). Old style numbers have decenders and modern numbers all align on the baseline.

If your chosen font uses old style numbers, you should not use them for tables or other places were there are lots of numbers. A single number in-line with the text is ok, but not large sets. Also, don't use old style numbers in places like posters and flyers whree the number could be isolated. The problem is that the ragged appearance of the numbers makes it look like the text is misaligned.

Old style number
Arial and Times Roman numbers




Type anatomy

Typography has been around since about 1450 when the printing press was invented. So, type designers have developed an incredibility rich vocabulary to describe a type face.

For descriptions of everything, see this page.

However, for most common discussions of type, you only need to know about three.

Point size The size of the font. Notice that point size is measured from the ascender line to the descender line, but the capital letters do not necessarily go that high. 1 point = 1/72 inch or 72 points gives a font that is 1 inch high.

x-height The height of the lowercase letters.

Baseline The imaginary horizontal line to which the fonts (base of the capitals and non-descender) are aligned.

The fonts in both of these examples are 72 points. Notice how neither the capitals nor the lower case letters are the same height. What this means form a design standpoint, is that if you use two different fonts of the same size, the reader may see one as being much smaller or larger than the other.


The length of a line text varies because of the shape of the letters (notice how the lowercase e has a very different shape in each of the fonts in the previous image). Each font also gives slightly different spacing between the letter.

So, 26 characters of each font has a different length. The best reading occurs when a line is about 2 alphabets (52 characters) long. However, with the varying length of each font, there is no actual length, such as 4.3 inches that is best. As a side note, the default line length in Word significantly exceeds 52 characters in most fonts. It also give another reason to indent the text under the heading.

Width of the characters

Look at the letters in the above image and notice that each letter has a different width. The i is much narrower than an m (the narrowest and widest letters in any font). This means you must use tabs and not spaces when try to align columns of text. The starting points are different because of the different letter widths and will prevent them from lining up properly. If you've tried to create a table of contents with spaces, rather than tabs, you should have noticed this problem.



Overview on kerning

Kerning or character spacing controls the space between the individual letters. You can adjust the kerning with all word processors. One common use is to help prevent single words on the last line of a paragraph.

Unfortunately, while most work processors handle kerning well, Word makes it very difficult to control.

Proportional and non-proportional fonts

Besides coming in serif and sans serif, fonts are also proportional or non-proportional. This characteristic comes from the amount of space each letter gets.

Proportional fonts give each letter a different amount of space. It is proportional to the letter needs. In other words, the i gets less space than the m. There are 10 characters in each row in both of these examples. Non-proportional fonts give each letter the same amount of space. A typewriter works this way. Note how 10 i and 10 m are both same length. Courier is an example of a non-proportional font.

Proportional fonts iiiiiiiiii
Non-proportional fonts iiiiiiiiii

Almost all the fonts on a computer are proportional. The varying space is why you must use tabs to align text rather than spaces. The slight differences cause the alignment to be slightly, but noticably off.


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