I can’t believe I’m writing about this topic

April 30, 2010

I am going to regret this.
Seriously.
And yet….and yet…there is a chance that this is mission relevant for my readers.
I’m going to start off with some YouTubage to soften you up.

Okay, now on to some serious grant geekery. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


The NIH sets a limit on the range of typefonts you may use in your application. In the instructions posted 12/22/09 (pdf), we find the following fonts allowed.

Use an Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia typeface, a black font color, and a font size of 11 points or larger. (A Symbol font may be used to insert Greek letters or special characters; the font size requirement still applies.)

Who cares? Well, at least one person for whom I have developed some respect is of the opinion that font selection actually matters. That some fonts are easier on the reviewer eye and some are harder. Since we all know by now that one essential goal of creating a grant application is to avoid irritating the reviewer, this assertion gets my attention. It is an area where I have little conscious opinion.
In my initial days, in my grant writing infancy, I was focused on skirting the edges of the rules to get as many words as possible on the page within the rules. So the selection of a font was mostly subjugated to that goal.
As I started to get somewhat of a clue with my grant writing it started to dawn on me that that was a bad idea, that the grant reviewer really wanted to see some space on the page for ease of readability. And to minimize the “When I see uninterrupted text from upper left to lower right…I go and get another beer out of the fridge” effect. At some point I landed on Arial as my font and just stuck with it.
As I have spent some fair amount of time reading and reviewing grants by now you might think that I would have garnered a viewpoint on readability. Sadly, I confess that I have not. I think for the most part the grants that I reviewed were Arial and Helvetica but I’d be pressed to actually confirm that with anything specific. Occasionally, I do recall some grants just being hard to read and decipher…but the reasons that stick in my mind are the usual no-nos. Densely packed text. Poor sentence or paragraph construction. Confused ideas. Jargon and acronym abuse. Etc.
The person to whom I am referring, however, has an additional assertion that readability issues which accrue to a specific font face are subconscious. Essentially predicting that the reader would come away from the exact same text with a better/worse impression depending on the typefont in which it was set…..and not even know why.
So I started messing around with type face in some recent grant proposals that I was preparing. Compared my standard with a few others, including the Georgia which has been proposed to be the best of those allowed in NIH proposals. I may have mentioned this off-hand in a Twitt some time ago.
Now someone who read that is curious as to my results.
I still don’t know. I’m still pretty insensitive to font, particularly when it is my own writing. At least, consciously insensitive.
So I have no direct answer.
I have, however, discovered that there is a subclass of nerd who is actually interested in these font / readability issues. More than interested. Positively obsessed.
Perhaps some of you will reveal your geekery visual arts sophistication and supply your font opinions in the comments…

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85 Responses to “I can’t believe I’m writing about this topic”

  1. ali Says:

    Comic Sans

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  2. Claire Says:

    Although there is some debate about whether this carries over to on-screen reading, the generally accepted wisdom for printed type is that serif fonts (Georgia & Palatino) make large blocks of texts easier to read and sans serifs (Arial and Helvetica) make text in short lines or in a very small point size easier to read. The thinking is that the serifs (little tails on the ends of each letter) create a visual bridge between letters, allowing the reader’s eyes to glide with less effort.

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  3. Eric Lund Says:

    My understanding is the same as Claire’s that you want serif fonts for printed text and sans serif fonts for displayed text like posters. I can see why that rule might not hold for on-screen text: at low resolution the serifs might not come out looking clean.
    If your proposal needs to include certain kinds of mathematics, then that need would drive your decision. In my area (physics) the general (but not universal) rule is to reserve sans serif fonts for tensors and put everything else in a serif font. That consideration would lead me to favor Palatino or Georgia. (In reality, I end up with Computer Modern Roman because I still use LaTeX for serious writing–if there is any significant mathematics LaTeX is more consistent and vastly superior to the output of Equation Editor.) But if you do not need any fancy mathematics and you think that most of the reviewers will read the proposal on a screen, you should definitely consider a sans serif font (of the two choices NIH offers, I prefer Helvetica because it aesthetically looks better, but the differences between the two are not that large). In presentations I have experimented with both Helvetica and Gill Sans; the latter does better with plain Western European text but can be problematic if you have any special characters in your presentation.
    Symbol font is obsolete on any system that supports Unicode. You can, in principle, get genuine Greek characters (or Cyrillic, or mathematical symbols, etc.) which actually match the font you are using for the rest of your text. “In principle” is a key phrase: many special characters are not available in Gill Sans, for instance.

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  4. AnyEdge Says:

    I’m in the middle of writing a large multi-year very high value grant (CI, 30%). I agree, large blocks of text are horrible. In fact Grant writing is horrible. I quit. I’m gonna go sell furniture for a living.

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  5. DrugMonkey Says:

    ahh, Eric Lund raises the fascinating idea that you might need to work out if people are doing the bulk of their hardcore reading of the proposal via hardcopy or online. This is a question in NIHland because NIH has converted to only sending electronic versions of the apps out to reviewers. Me, I’m still printing out hardcopies of anything I need to really grapple with. Although I may have managed to handle a paper review or two entirely via screen reading, now that I think of it.

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  6. Pascale Says:

    What Claire said (#2) is backed up by data, and I believe there are now studies showing similar effects when read onscreen.
    Generally, sans-serif type is best when you want someone to SLOW DOWN and REALLY PAY ATTENTION. Billboards, headings, etc. Serif fonts help words stick together and text flow- any block of text will benefit from them.
    So why are so many grants written completely in Arial or Helvetica? In my case, I often submit a proposal to multiple agencies, including American Heart Association. AHA requires Arial for their proposals, making life as one of their reviewers more tedious.

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  7. ecologist Says:

    I’m with Eric Lund; anything I submit is produced in LaTeX, and hence in Computer Modern.
    Readability is a real issue, however. When I see manuscripts or proposals containing equations generated by (shudder) MSWord or the like, I find it hard to force myself to read them, the document looks amateurish and sloppy, and I find myself grumbling before I even figure out what it is I’m reading.
    And I also agree with comments here that the biggest effects on readability are not the font, but other instances of bad writing or bad arranging of text on the page.

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  8. Dr Becca Says:

    Futura is the best font, full stop. So crisp, so clean, so no-nonsense, yet stylish…it’s a shame it’s not one of the approved few.
    Re: screen vs. paper–just came from a thesis defense that, while one of the most impressive presentations I’ve ever seen by a student, was all in Georgia. Very unpleasant to read.

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  9. D. C. Sessions Says:

    So why are so many grants written completely in Arial or Helvetica? In my case, I often submit a proposal to multiple agencies, including American Heart Association. AHA requires Arial for their proposals, making life as one of their reviewers more tedious.

    That’s what styles are for. With proper use of styles (AHA vs. NIH etc.) you should be able to just change style and all of the font selection and other formatting get switched with a handful of clicks.
    IMHO if you’re making formatting decisions on each document, you’re wasting a precious resource (your time) doing something you’re not especially expert doing.

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  10. Nomen Nescio Says:

    Use an Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia typeface

    that’s two sans-serifs and two serif faces; looks like somebody just wanted to cover the bases but didn’t know the typesetting lingo for “serif” and “sans serif”. i’d put money on it (not much money, but still) that your average grant reviewer couldn’t tell Palatino from Times New Roman in hardcopy output; most people can tell the difference between serif and sans, but not much more.
    me, i can tell Computer Modern Roman from most any other serif font, but that’s because i too am a TeX geek (and because CM is pretty distinctive as a typeface to begin with). but (La)TeX can be told to use any PostScript font, which includes Times New Roman and Helvetica; hand the grant over in any format that doesn’t outright tell the reader what the fonts are, and odds are good they’ll never know.
    other than that, i flatly refuse to believe that anybody halfway serious is producing long, complicated texts in nothing but sans serif typefaces. on screen it might be okay, but anybody who hands me a printed page full of 11pt Arial had better be ready to watch me round-file it unread. it’d be almost as bad as using Comic Sans.

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  11. arrzey Says:

    One of DM’s points (albeit minor) is critical: do not write without white space. If you’re lucky you’ll get the “I’m going for another beer” response, as opposed to the “I’m going to skip pages till I get to someplace with white space” response.
    Inevitably, young researchers struggle with page limits (“oh how oh how can I possibly tell my most magnificent story in 25/12/6 pages?”). You should never, ever, oh ever, try to “get in as many words as possible”. As a reviewer I appreciate, nay, I love, grants that come in a couple of pages short or with sufficient margins and breaks to help my aging eyes. (Side note: if you want reviewers over 50 to read your captions, don’t make them less than 10pt).
    Page limits are your friend! Use them as a guide to what you should and should not include. If you’re a bit over, don’t go hunting words to take out. Take out sentences, take out paragraphs! In 8 years on study section (plus umpteen ad hoc), I have had one grant that was too short, and dozens that were too long. Everytime that I wrote in critique that XYZ was missing, I know (and often said) that PQR could be shortened to include the missing info.
    Screw worrying about the font. I think its relatively minor. Why are you posting on this, when you could be doing an experiment or writing a paper?

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  12. Futura is a beautiful display typeface, but it is completely unreadable as paragraph text.

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  13. Zen Faulkes Says:

    I have written a reasonable amount on typeface selections for posters on the Better Posters blog:
    http://betterposters.blogspot.com/search/label/typefaces
    Obviously, a proposal is very different from a poster, but I think some of the principles I write about are broad enough to cover both. The problem is that there’s a lot of mythology and personal preference disguised as fact in these kinds of discussions.

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  14. Gingerale Says:

    Me, I’m still printing out hardcopies of anything I need to really grapple with.
    Ditto! Also, ditto Claire (comment #2 above).
    I liked Palatino and Georgia even before they joined the OK list for NIH. But don’t show me Times New Roman or I’ll fall…a…sleep. It’s hard to believe I ever hastened to use it. (Sigh) Yes, Times New Roman, it’s time to admit we’ve grown apart. I know: what I started with Calibri was only going to be a fling but then it grew into something more. I take full responsibility for my actions.
    A font conference is here:
    http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1823766

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  15. JerryM Says:

    Newspapers invest money in font readability research. So yes, there are good and bad fonts.
    For your grant, if you’re allowed to submit a html page, you can include css to change the font for printing, so you could take care of the difference between online and offline readability.
    But that’s prolly not possible.
    here’s some fontnerds talking:
    http://typoface.blogspot.com/2009/12/typeface-or-font-readability-which.html

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  16. Onkel Bob Says:

    Don’t ask for the cite, I can’t find it. A study in graphic design was performed, an undergraduate level paper was printed in four different fonts, Times, Georgia, Helvetica, and Arial. The paper was handed 16 or twenty professors (I think the subject was a topic in Art History). The paper in Georgia got the best grade, the one in Arial the worst. It was repeated in ug psychology, (different topic) same results. Once more in English again another topic, and again Georgia commanded an A, while Arial got a B-. MIght be something about UG professor’s and how many papers they grade, but…
    BTW – Georgia’s kerning is fairly larger than of Times New Roman and slightly smaller that of Palatino. Arial and Helvetica are just about the same and just between the other two. Something to consider if the new page limit is a problem.
    Rule of thumb in cartography is sans serif font faces for short passages, captions and titles; serif font faces for prose and body text. I use Firefox as a browser and tell it to over-ride the font and display a font and size I designate. The font is I use is Georgia.

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  17. LadyDay Says:

    I wonder if Physioprof prefers French Script MT for his grants?

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  18. Neuro-conservative Says:

    I can’t think of the last time I reviewed a grant that did not use Arial. As a conservative, it seems risky to me to try something that would potentially rub a reviewer the wrong way. Better to stick with Arial and follow all of the suggestions on making the page format open and readable. ‘

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  19. Namnezia Says:

    I like serif typefaces, but most of my grants that have been funded were written in sans serif fonts. I don’t know why, but whenever I use a serif typeface (like Georgia) it seems like I always get bad reviews…
    I think the key to using sans serif fonts is using short paragraphs with a full space between the paragraphs.

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  20. Lamar Says:

    Arial for me, as learned from an extremely prestigious mentor. It makes your text/ideas look more confident and fundable. It’s not a children’s book or Oprah Book Club selection, you know. The whole goddamn thing is like a title-it’s all that important. I’m not going to waste your time with bullshit text that I have to make easy to read. I do however include a lot of breathing room in my grants, and this probably helps here.

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  21. Venkat Says:

    As long as we are talking mind games, it should be interesting to submit a major grant in some commonly despised font such as comic sans. The reviewers will go “surely, this has to be god-level science for him to have the guts to submit it in comic sans!”

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  22. Lassi Hippeläinen Says:

    Arial is a bastard. Monotype created it by hammering one of its existing fonts so that the characters have the same footprints as Helvetica.
    http://www.ms-studio.com/articles.html
    When I need a font family, I have a short list of requirements:
    – good readability on screen and on paper
    – serif, sans serif and monospace; all in normal, italic, and bold
    – extended latin, math, greek and cyrillic glyphs
    – free to use
    So far the best match has been the DejaVu family.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dejavu_fonts

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  23. Zen Faulkes Says:

    I think the research DrugMonkey is referring to is described in part in this Boston Globe article.
    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/01/31/easy__true/
    Here’s a snippet:

    When people read something in a difficult-to-read font, they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about.

    Second, I have to defend Futura. It can be used for paragraph text, but you have to use a book weight. Futura is a popular and well established family of typefaces, with many different variations and weights:
    http://www.linotype.com/472/futura-family.html
    I have Futura Lt and Futura Md on my computer (I think they were a default with Windows), and they are too light and too heavy for paragraph text, respectively.
    Finally, I’ve written a fair amount about typefaces on the Better Posters blog. Obviously, a grant proposal is a very different beast from a poster, but some of the underlying principles are the same:
    http://betterposters.blogspot.com/search/label/typefaces

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  24. Isis Says:

    Are you folks shitting me?

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  25. Philistine! Typefaces are one of the most amazing and important fruits of human ingenuity in all of history.

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  26. Venkat Says:

    yo CPP! i actually looked that shit up.

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  27. Isis the Scientist Says:

    The real question is, what font is best for the study section member who is drunk on motherfucking Jameson?

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  28. zoubl Says:

    As far as readability goes, what about text justification? Do folks prefer justified (aligned with both left & right margins) or aligned just to the left? Does it matter? Is one easier to read than the other? Just curious whether anyone has an opinion about that.

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  29. Palatino? Gross.
    I wonder if there are any gender preferences? Or young/old preferences? ’cause, l, like several of the commenters above, was trained to use Arial. Which I also think is gross and hard to read. Am I willing to change it up? Not likely.

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  30. Right-rag is easier to read than full-justified. This is for two reasons: (1) It allows the word-spacing to remain constant. (2) It makes it easier for your eye to move to the next line when you swing back to the left.

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  31. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Also, double-justified makes pages look like monolithic blocks of text — very imposing to the reader.

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  32. andy Says:

    I’m quite a fan of Gentium. Shame they haven’t gotten around to bold yet: unfortunately the Gentium Basic fonts which do support bold text have somewhat odd letter spacing.

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  33. Physician Scientist Says:

    My god! No wonder the success rate is so low.
    Arial with left justified is the only way.
    When reviewing, I consider it a “moderate mistake” to use anything else and thus start my scoring at 5.

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  34. Zeno Says:

    I have been blessed by not relying on grant applications to support my profession (math teacher), but in a previous life I was responsible for producing a number of government reports while working for the state of California. My agency boss actually discussed with my immediate supervisor whether a rebuke should be entered into my personnel file for failing to justify the body text in our two-column formatted reports. The boss had looked at a preliminary proof copy and had said, “You didn’t justify the right margin.” I said, “The lines in a two-column format are rather short and are more readable in ragged right. Justification can distort the spacing.”
    I thought I was giving a reasonable answer to a casual observation. She thought I was defying a direct order. (I guess she was too subtle for me.) She never did get me to turn on right-justification. And I managed to get even with her just before I left the agency.

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  35. Font-astic Says:

    Apologies to the otherwise brilliant Dr. Becca, but I can’t take any typeface seriously that doesn’t include a curved “j.” Futura is clean and beautiful to look at, but a “j” without a curve at the bottom is just a cross-dressing “i.” And I don’t cross-dress. (Pun intended. Live with it.)
    Zoubl, I definitely recommend left-justification. Anything else is bloody unreadable if it runs to any length at all.
    When one of my students turns in a draft dissertation chapter with all the lines stretched and warped from one end of the page to the other, the first thing I do (after turning on track changes) is left justify it and leave them a (polite) comment pointing out that they’ll probably want their committee members to be able to read the damned thing.

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  36. Dr. Feelgood Says:

    Left justify, arial font.
    When I started writing and reviewing grants in the early days, everything was in Times New Roman. Totally sucked reading those. I am very pleased it was outlawed for NIH grants. It was vile. Arial is like an eyeball vacation. And yes, lots of white space. I actually agree with n-c!

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  37. Namnezia Says:

    CPP said:

    Right-rag is easier to read than full-justified.

    I actually use centered text and vary the font sizes randomly throughout the page, just to get that Dadaist poem look.
    Actually, I think full-justified is easier to read but the warped spacing is annoying. To get rid of the warping the best thing to do is to turn on automatic hyphenation and the warping problem is solved. Plus you gain a few lines of text at the end of the document.

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  38. Otto Says:

    “I said, ‘The lines in a two-column format are rather short and are more readable in ragged right. Justification can distort the spacing.'”
    Competent typesetting and, where necessary, editing can almost always avoid problems of word spacing on narrow measure. Bringhurst’s “The Elements of Typographic Style” (on single-column 21 pica measure) and Noordzij’s “Letterletter” (two columns, 20.5 pi) are both set fully justified. And if you don’t have competent typesetting in the first place, ragged right on two columns can be even worse by virtue of drawing attention to a misshapen gutter.

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  39. Bringhurst’s “The Elements of Typographic Style” (on single-column 21 pica measure) and Noordzij’s “Letterletter” (two columns, 20.5 pi) are both set fully justified.

    Listen, fuckface. We don’t give any credence to Austrofrench cockwads like “Brindlerwurst” and “Noorddkijiz” on this blog. This is fucking America cumtooth. Go fuck yourself.

    Like

  40. Otto Says:

    You just might like Noordzij, right-ragger.

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  41. Thomas Says:

    What about the opposite problem? The best way to typeset something so you get a headache from trying to read it, because some people just deserve one:
    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2010/05/civil_investigation_demand_to.php

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  42. LadyDay Says:

    Scoring due to differences in font/justification preferences is pretty damn pathetic. It sounds like just another attempt at legitimizing some petty bias a reviewer may have. For all you know, there are reviewers out there who have the exact opposite font/justification preferences as you.
    The science (and, if it’s a grant, the *information* conveyed in supporting documents) should be all that counts. I can’t help but wonder if this argument is just another manifestation of the true state of science research today – where crap can get published due to name alone. So, now it’s font and justification. Nevermind that for papers the font and justification are changed to suit the journal’s specifications, anyway.

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  43. LadyDay Says:

    I mean, what’s next? Calling in hand-writing “experts” to analyze the personalities of the people signing off on your grant face page? If it’s electronic or somehow typed up, it should be easy to read regardless of font style, as long as the font size is large enough.

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  44. IanR Says:

    Wingdings. Or Wingdings 2.

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  45. gnuma Says:

    georgia, 11pt font.

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  46. LadyDay Says:

    Maybe I should clarify – when I was referring to fonts earlier, I meant “those currently allowed under NIH grant guidelines.” NOT French Script MT or wingdings or wingdings 2… unless for some reason your grant really calls for those…. Hell, I employ symbol font enough to merit concern, I’m sure.

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  47. DrugMonkey Says:

    The point, LadyDay@#42, is whether fonts may operate on the reader at a subconscious level, not that font dorks are busting people intentionally.

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  48. Neuro-conservative Says:

    Hey DM — how often do you see a grant in your Study Section that is not in Arial?

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  49. Dario Ringach Says:

    “Book Antiqua” works for me. 100% success rate so far in my R01s… but I’d like to think the content is important too.

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  50. DrugMonkey Says:

    N-c, like I said, I have little conscious recollection of fonts being used. I am pretty sure that the sans serifs dominate and that the serifs are pretty rare. less than 10% maybe?

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  51. “Book Antiqua” works for me. 100% success rate so far in my R01s.

    Book Antiqua is a Microsoft knock-off of Palatino, and is nearly indistinguishable from it. This is probably why your grant was accepted for review by CSR, even though it violated the SF424 instructions.

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  52. LadyDay Says:

    Hi, DM. Oh, I suppose I should have clarified that my comments were mildly sarcastic ones directed at Physician Scientist @ 33.
    I understand the “subconscious bias” argument, but the effective use of white space, to me, has always been understood to be exempt from font or justification preferences, which I still think are totally and utterly ridiculous. When I review, although it can be a royal pain in the a$$ to have to deal with lack of white space, font or justification do not add or subtract from the grant or paper’s overall appeal or score. It’s always the *information* conveyed in the document(s) that matters.
    And, seriously, how many scientists let subconscious bias direct their understanding of the science, too? Science isn’t always as objective as we’d like it to be – that I understand. But, should we meekly accept and conform to what we think a reviewer will more readily like, or should we be bold and focus on what really matters most? We let the status quo persist long enough by enabling it with our actions, and we end up being enforcers of the very things we think are ridiculous and nonsensical. Shouldn’t we make an argument *against* such subconscious biases – that we should be aware of them enough to resist the urge to automatically dislike that which is not familiar to us? If it makes us feel uncomfortable, instead of “dinging” the paper or application, shouldn’t we be self-reflective enough to examine why that paper or application makes us feel uncomfortable and see through rather shallow preferences?
    In fact, along those same lines, hasn’t it been the “prettying” up of data, for presentation’s sake, that’s helped to blur the lines between clarification of data and the outright forgery of data? I’d rather see something sloppy but honest than something “pretty” and possibly fake.

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  53. DSKS Says:

    I once vacationed in San Seriffe (after Tony Bourgeois’ election of course). Lovely people. Excellent sea food.

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  54. LadyDay Says:

    BTW, anyone got any comments on the use of naked pictures to secure grant funding or an “easier” paper review? Looking around at the scientists I know, some people may have a clear advantage over others.
    Just sayin’.

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  55. When I review, although it can be a royal pain in the a$$ to have to deal with lack of white space, font or justification do not add or subtract from the grant or paper’s overall appeal or score. It’s always the *information* conveyed in the document(s) that matters.

    You have absolutely no way to possibly know that this is the case. That’s what “subconscious” fucking means!

    In fact, along those same lines, hasn’t it been the “prettying” up of data, for presentation’s sake, that’s helped to blur the lines between clarification of data and the outright forgery of data? I’d rather see something sloppy but honest than something “pretty” and possibly fake.

    Are you fucking kidding? Choosing the best possible typography for a grant application in order to make it as easy for the reviewer to read as possible is “along th[e] same lines” as “blur[ring] the lines between clarification of data and the outright forgery of data”? Get a fucking grip.
    Frankly, it is frightening that someone this fucking clueless is reviewing grant applications. I sure as fuck hope you never cast your eyes on any of mine.

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  56. LadyDay Says:

    @ CPP: How the hell does amount of white space equate with font, given the context? There are guidelines that already exist that prevent the wrong font (with regards to size and clarity) from being used. Or even justification? There are guidelines about margins, etc. If you really give a rat’s ass about justification and font on a paper or grant (outside of those already given to us by funding agencies and journals), then you have your priorities shoved somewhere the sun don’t shine.
    If something’s a pain in the ass, it doesn’t mean I count it against the person. It just means that, for whatever reason, they have a page of writing instead of pictures and empty lines. Have you ever read a novel, or are those too French for you? Tons of pages with not much white space, there.
    And, if you want to extend the white space bias to font and justi-fucking-ation, then why the hell can’t I extend the argument to data presentation?
    I sure as hope I never review any of your papers or grants, either! Personally, I can’t stand right justification!

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  57. LadyDay Says:

    That last sentence should read “right ragged” not “right justification.”
    Like I give a flying fuck what your preferences are CPP, anyway.

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  58. arrzey Says:

    @Lady Day & CPP, I have reviewed grants forever, and CPP has it right. Subconscious bias? You’ve obviously not had to review 20 grants in a few days three times a year. I am tired of PI’s who think what they say is so damned important that they don’t have to worry about presentation. Take it from a real reviewer, I don’t head for a beer at 2am, when the reading gets tough. I skip. You want me skipping your (now non-existent)background section, because you’ve buried your significance in the middle of a monolith of text, fine.
    If it was all black and white (ie bad grant with good margins vs. good grant with bad margins), it would be easy. But what you’ve got are two grants, right near the funding line. The reality of study section is that you can’t advocate for everything (or no one will listen to anything you say). Which do you read more carefully (and you can’t do both, because the mother-fucking-Jamison is running low, and time is running out)? If its me, I want to give the reviewer every reason possible to show me a little love, and a lotta money.

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  59. Of course I have it right. LadyDay is pathetically ignorant of human performance psychology. This shit isn’t even up for discussion. And how sad is it that the stupid fuck doesn’t even have the faintest clue how his or her own fucking mind works?
    He or she sounds just like those sad-sack stupid fuckwads who were whining like motherfucking whiny-ass titty-babies when I provided excellent advice for how to give a good scientific presentation, claiming that it is “unfair” to use known established approaches for delivering convincing powerful presentations because “the science should speak for itself”. Fucking idiots are just gonna get washed out to fucking sea, anyway.

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  60. LadyDay Says:

    @ arrzey: I never said that all black and white was necessarily good. I did say it was a pain in the ass. I still read them, though. What I was arguing was that font and justification preferences are ridiculous, given that the guidelines *are already given* on NIH (and other) grant applications and in journal instructions for papers. I have read the occasional grant that has the page of all text. It’s not that bad, honestly, if the grant is interesting, scientifically. If you and CPP think that you’re the only 2 grant reviewers out there, go ahead. I’m not stopping you from thinking that way.
    @ CPP: I ain’t whining. Besides, I give excellent presentations.
    The future of science resides in good ideas moreso than anal-retentive-wads’ opinions on whether arial vs. whateverthehellfitsintograntguidlelinesfont. If a grant is written in arial and it’s fully justified, I’m not going to ding it, man.
    And, FYI, yes, I’m female. Kiss my ass.

    Like


  61. If a grant is written in arial and it’s fully justified, I’m not going to ding it, man.

    How many fucking times are you gonna have to be told that this has nothing to do with “preferences” or with reviewers intentionally “dinging” grants? This is a matter of human performance psychology and based on scientific motherfucking studies that have been done on people reading text.
    Regardless of your delusional introspective ravings, it requires more of your mental effort to read full-justified Arial than it does to read right-rag Georgia. And that is mental effort that comes at the expense of parsing the motherfucking science. The fact that this goes on below your conscious perception doesn’t mean that it isn’t occurring.
    I want the reviewers of my grants to have available the maximum amount of mental effort to devote to the science, and not to the reading. This is also why I always use the (author, year) in-text citation format, and never use numbered citations.
    Be a stubborn fuckwit if you want, but you are flat-out fucking wrong about this.

    Like

  62. LadyDay Says:

    Cite the studies that justify the use of your particular font preference and justification. We can look at the studies, how well they are conducted, what the sample pool was like, etc. and then come to a conclusion.
    That would be the rational thing to do, right? Instead of just citing newspaper articles that cover so-and-so’s psychological findings without really citing the actual article.
    Also, I truly do NOT pay attention to font or justification. In fact, in my day-to-day life, if something seems too pretty, I question if I’m being “had.” You know, being conned by some used car salesman personality. That’s MY psychology. And, I acknowledge that it’s probably different from yours, judging by what you’ve said so far.

    Like

  63. arrzey Says:

    CPP: you hit on another one of my least favorite (ie stupid when you keep doing it) things: numbered citations. Do you think your grants are SCIENCE publications and therefore you only use numbers? Or are you perhaps trying to squeeze in 12 more words per page? Page limits exist not to torture PI’s but to indicate how much to include. If its too long, using tricks to fit in more will only piss off reviewers. Many reviewers may be paragons of reading the science. Most aren’t. Get over it.

    Like

  64. zoubl Says:

    ok, why cite names in the text vs numbers for the references? I’ve always used numbers (similar to Current Biology style), because long lists of cited names seems to me too distracting from the text. If the reviewer is really interested in the cited references, why would going to a numbered reference at the end of the proposal be more difficult than finding a name in an alphabetical list?
    And, yes, I find the numbered refs do save a bit of space. More space to spread stuff out.

    Like

  65. DrugMonkey Says:

    If the reviewer is really interested in the cited references, why would going to a numbered reference at the end of the proposal be more difficult than finding a name in an alphabetical list?
    Because much of the time the reviewer is already familiar with the paper and Gun (2001) is the same contextual reminder across occurrences. In contrast this could be [41], or [2] or [11ty] across different apps.
    Even if you are not familar, it is a lot easier to remember Pharmboy (1928) then to remember wtf [56] refers to after you’ve checked the reference list the first time you see it.
    long lists of cited names seems to me too distracting from the text
    an interesting point. I suppose it hinges on how you deploy / read citations in scientific writing. It seems to me to touch on whether you actually intend the results to come to mind or simply are trying to quickly appeal to authority but I’m going to have to think on that one a bit…

    Like

  66. becca McSnarky Says:

    “Regardless of your delusional introspective ravings, it requires more of your mental effort to read full-justified Arial than it does to read right-rag Georgia. And that is mental effort that comes at the expense of parsing the motherfucking science. The fact that this goes on below your conscious perception doesn’t mean that it isn’t occurring.”
    I believe the question now is:
    “which is greater, frustration resulting from subconscious mental load increase of full-justified Arial, or frustration resulting from conscious associative-with-CPP intense HATRED of right-rag Georgia”?
    Also, how the fuck did this post generate this many comments? And why am I commenting ?! AGGHHH!

    Like

  67. DrugMonkey Says:

    Also, how the fuck did this post generate this many comments?
    Don’t you believe me when I say that there are font nerds? They are really quite an interesting species, are they not?

    Like

  68. LadyDay Says:

    @ arrzey: Sorry – misread your comment about “all black and white.” I was skimming, but yes, I can see how two grants formatted differently may appeal to you at some subconscious level differently. But, you know, the page of all text has not phased me yet.
    Yes, there are ways that people usually emphasize the major points of a grant (underlining, italics, bold, section breaks, whatever). I’m not against that. In fact, every single one of my own grants is “broken up” into palatable sections with images to accompany, if possible. But, as far as *font* and *justification* go – never paid attention to them and don’t see a need to. I’ve gotten decent scores on my grants so far. In fact, I never pay attention to anyone else’s font, either. I barely know the difference between Arial and Times New Roman.
    And, as far as the subconscious bias argument goes – I really don’t believe that it is generally applicable to reviewers. There are many different “places” that scientists come from today, even in the U.S. Some American scientists I know don’t even use the Roman alphabet in their day-to-day communications. I highly doubt that there is a single psychological study that definitively shows that there is ONE font and justification that is somehow preferable, at a subconscious level, to the general scientific community here in the States or elsewhere. I also highly doubt that every single reviewer prioritizes grant font or justification, or even organization, over other aspects of the grant.
    Again, apologies to arrzey for misreading. I’m usually better than that.

    Like


  69. somehow preferable, at a subconscious level, to the general scientific community

    Jeezus motherfuck! Are you really this fucking stupid, or is this some kind of bizarre act? What we are talking about has nothing to do with “subconscious preference”. Paragraph text set rag-right in serif typefaces is easier to motherfucking read than sans serif and full-justified. This is a completely uncontroversial truth of typography and design, and is why no books are set in sans serif typefaces.
    Is your reading comprehension as a grant reviewer as pitifully poor as it is here?

    Like

  70. LadyDay Says:

    Regarding justification: every book I know, and newspaper and journal article, for that matter, has its text fully justified. On the internet, you see a mixture of right-rag and full-justified text (though, usually right-rag). Why is fully justified text being used in so many books, newspapers, and journal articles? That’s one half of your “easier-to-read” equation right there, CPP.
    As far as sans serif vs. serif – it’s a mixed bag, at least as far as popular newspaper fonts go. Though, I will say that the article isn’t a scientific study of what’s easier to read vs. not.

    Like

  71. LadyDay Says:

    Can I just say “blow it out your ass, CPP?”
    I write my fucking grants in French using French Script MT and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, bitch.

    Like


  72. I knew you were fucking Austrian you fuckhead.

    Like

  73. ginger Says:

    Jesus, get a room, you two. You’re starting to sound like Isabel and Isis.

    Like

  74. LadyDay Says:

    Joking aside, doing a PubMed search for “font” and “readability,” will pull up 33 papers. Here’s the abstract for one of them (seemed the most broadly applicable):
    Vision Res. 2005 Nov;45(23):2926-33.
    Serifs and font legibility.
    Arditi A, Cho J.
    Arlene R. Gordon Research Institute, Lighthouse International, New York, NY 10022, USA. aarditi@lighthouse.org
    Abstract
    Using lower-case fonts varying only in serif size (0%, 5%, and 10% cap height), we assessed legibility using size thresholds and reading speed. Five percentage serif fonts were slightly more legible than sans serif, but the average inter-letter spacing increase that serifs themselves impose, predicts greater enhancement than we observed. RSVP and continuous reading speeds showed no effect of serifs. When text is small or distant, serifs may, then, produce a tiny legibility increase due to the concomitant increase in spacing. However, our data exhibited no difference in legibility between typefaces that differ only in the presence or absence of serifs.

    Like


  75. It’s good that you’re no longer just pulling random shit out of your ass, but legibility is not the same as readibility. They are two different aspects of the psychophysics of reading.

    Like

  76. qaz Says:

    One thing that seems to have gotten lost in this discussion is the effect of those fonts on the writing style of the grant writer. I find that I don’t write as dense text in Arial as I do in Times New Roman. So, my grants read very differently, not because of the font, but because of the effect the font has on my sentence length, paragraph length, etc.

    Like

  77. LadyDay Says:

    @ qaz: yeah, I’m with you on that.
    @ CPP: Here’s a blog for you to check out. I have a hard time just taking someone’s word for it that, “This is a matter of human performance psychology and based on scientific motherfucking studies that have been done on people reading text.” If you’re going to quote a body of literature, I’d like to see it.
    To quote from that blog: What initially seemed a neat dichotomous question of serif versus sans serif has resulted in a body of research consisting of weak claims and counter-claims, and study after study with findings of “no difference”. Is it the case that more than one hundred years of research has been marred by repeated methodological flaws, or are serifs simply a typographical “red herring”?
    Readability takes into account the whole body of text, whereas legibility is just about the typeface design (according to Alex Poole). If you want to discuss readability, we’ve already covered justification (and most standard, off-line, published texts appear to be full-justified, whereas on-line, “right-rag” is often employed). Any other aspect of the body of text you wanna discuss?
    It appears to me that readability and even legibility may amount to nothing more than a personal preference (which is why I kept saying that over and over, before). To prove that this is nothing more than that, that people’s preferences have been shown to have some sort of universal similarity, I’d like to see the definitive studies that you seem to think exist.

    Like

  78. Confused Administrator Says:

    At times like these I would ask myself what would Edward Tufte do? Then I’d fall asleep trying to think of the answer.

    Like

  79. arrzey Says:

    Oh go check out:
    http://xkcd.com/736/

    Like

  80. Nomen Nescio Says:

    Also, how the fuck did this post generate this many comments?
    Don’t you believe me when I say that there are font nerds? They are really quite an interesting species, are they not?

    it’s well known in the free software / open source world; the smallest practical differences generate the most controversy, as well as the longest running (and most deeply entrenched) disputes. i’m a vi man myself, death to emacs!
    require all grants and papers to be submitted electronically, in some agreed-upon format every reviewer can access and modify. then let the reviewers set their own damn fonts before reading the bloody thing either on screen or in hardcopy.

    Like

  81. becca Says:

    Now now, you know if reviewers get a modifiable copy, then some oldskool reviewer (*cough*likemyPI*cough*) is gonna open up a windows-created file on a Mac (or vice versa), and turn all the greek symbols into little empty boxes, and not be able to make head nor tail out of IkappaB what? and not be tech savy enough to fix it and complain to the editors about the ‘broken’ file, or else just not review it meaningfully.
    Also, arrzey beat me to it. Curses, foiled again.
    DM- arguments of arial vs. georgia :: star wars vs. star trek

    Like

  82. rpenner Says:

    Of course, your font discussion could get out of hand:
    http://xkcd.com/736/

    Like

  83. Pieter B Says:

    The reason Arial has become the “standard” font is that it’s at the top of the font list and the overwhelming majority of people never bother to/don’t know they can change.

    Like

  84. Kevin Says:

    “Verdana” is best for article writing. Because it looks more smarter than other.
    Kevin,
    http://namebrandcontactlens.com

    Like


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