I can’t believe I’m writing about this topic
April 30, 2010
I am going to regret this.
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…