As fundraising professionals, we spend a significant amount of time creating messages to our prospects and donors. We carefully write copy for letters, emails, reports, newsletters, and web pages.
However, can your intended audience easily read your well-written communication? If they can’t, they’re likely not reading what you write at all.
As I prepared to work on this week’s blog post, I received a Tweet from Robin Peake of Oxford, England:
I hate your Times New Roman font. I hate it so much, I don’t read your content. Please adapt.”
Initially, I thought the message was a bit over the top. While there are things I “hate” (i.e.: war, child rapists, disease, etc.), it’s tough for me to ever get too worked up over typography. So, I was going to reply to Robin with a snarky Tweet of my own:
Instead, I decided to keep my perspective and use Robin’s message as a teachable moment, for you and for me.
When using the written word to communicate with others, there are six rules we should adhere to so that our messages are easy to read:
1. In print, use a serif font such as Times New Roman. Serif fonts have little dangling bits attached to letters while sans-serif fonts such as Arial do not. Studies have shown that readers have an easier time reading printed text that uses serif fonts.
2. In electronic communications, use a sans-serif font such as Arial. Studies have shown that readers have an easier time reading electronic media messages that use a sans-serif font. The cleaner lines of a sans-serif font make it easier to read a message on a low-resolution screen or a small screen such as a smart-phone.
3. Never use reverse type. Reverse type, whether in print or electronic media, is more difficult to read than dark type on a light background. It’s also easier to cut-and-paste, photocopy, and fax copy that uses dark type on a light background. Some designers like to use reverse type for emphasis or because it looks pretty. Nevertheless, you should resist the temptation to use reverse type for the reasons stated. The darker the type and the lighter the background, the better.
4. Use a large font size. While using an 8-point font size will allow you to cram more information into a tight space, recognize that that is not your objective. Instead, your objective is to make sure your message can be read. Readers over the age of 40 will appreciate messages that use a font size of 12 points. If your target audience is elderly or seeing impaired, you might even want to go larger. In any case, you need to understand that, if your message strains a reader’s eyes, she’ll be less likely to actually read your wonderful, meticulously chosen words.
5. It’s not about you; it’s about your reader. Remember, it does not matter what you like or don’t like, can read or can’t read. When communicating with others, it’s about what is best for them. Focus on your audience, not just with your words but how you present your words.
6. Create a style manual. Your organization should create and maintain a style manual that outlines, among other things, what font style and size you can use and the policy regarding reverse type. Then, you can share the manual with staff and vendors who will be responsible for designing your organization’s communications.
Now, I come back to Robin’s Tweet and why I have chosen to violate Rule #2.
When I started blogging, I used a sans-serif font. Along the way, I changed over to Times New Roman. My primary reason for the switch had to do entirely with me.
I’m partially blind. Even those who know me personally will be surprised by this revelation because I’ve done a good job of adapting to my situation. One of the ways I adapt is to use serif fonts in all of my communications. I personally find it much easier to read serif fonts in both the print and electronic form given my particular vision problem. Since no one protested when I changed font styles, until now, I stuck with Times New Roman for my blog.
However, after receiving Robin’s message, I’ve reconsidered my font usage for two reasons:
First, I’m a proponent of donor-centered fundraising. In other words, it’s not my comfort that should be paramount. I should be more concerned about what is easiest on my readers’ eyes. Adhering to Rule #5 is important.
Second, in my blog posts, I always try to promote best practices. Because a sans-serif font for electronic communication is best practice, I should exhibit that on my blog pages.
Therefore, with this post and moving forward, I will switch back to using a sans-serif font. I thank Robin for the nudge that has led me to the font change for my blog. I hope you find that it makes my posts easier for you to read.
In addition, I hope you will keep my example in mind when communicating with your prospects and supporters.
For a terrific infographic about font usage, click here.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?