This image is from one of Dr. Bailey's books: The Practical Writer (7th edition) Typefaces

Home | Paragraphs | Headings | Bullets | Typefaces | First Pages | Quiz | Handout

Bottom line

  • Use a serifed typeface (such as Times New Roman) for your body text.
  • Use 12-point type for most body text.
  • Prefer a sans serif font (like Arial) for your headings and illustrations.
  • Use typesetting conventions.

Use a serifed typeface for your body text

The standard in the United States is a serifed typeface for body text.

Serifs are the little lines some fonts have. Remember this graphic when you read about headings?

Illustration of serif and sans serif fonts

The most popular serifed font for business writing today is Times New Roman. I recommend it.

Note: You may notice that the typeface on this Web site is sans serif (Verdana, in fact)—not Times New Roman. That's because the resolution for your computer screen is not nearly as good as the resolution for a printed page. Sans serif probably shows up a little better on a computer screen.

Use 12-point type for most body text

The standard in business today is 12-point type. The default in Word for Windows is 10-point type. That's too small for the layout most people use.

If you're using Word for Windows, you should change your default.

Prefer a sans serif font for your headings and illustrations

The most popular sans serif font is Arial. Here are my suggestions:

  • Headings. Normally choose the same size as your body text or larger. For headings within bullets, though (like the heading for this bullet), normally use italicized body text.
  • Labels for illustrations. Use about two points smaller type than you use for your body text. For example, if you use 12-point type for your body text, use 10-point type to label your illustrations.

Use typesetting conventions

Word processing today will do most of this automatically, such as giving you curly quotation marks and apostrophes rather than straight ones. But here are some conventions you need to be aware of:

  • Use italic instead of underlining. Underlining is a relic of the typewriter days. Use underlining only for special circumstances.
  • Use a real dash. Instead of using two hyphens (--), use the typeset dash (—). Sometimes Word will automatically change your two hyphens to a dash (using AutoCorrect). If not, choose Insert …Symbol.
  • Put one space after all punctuation. Typesetters have always done this. You may have learned to put two spaces after periods, etc. That was reasonable on typewriters (which had letters that were all the same width). With the proportional type on your computer, however, you're doing typesetting—not typewriting. Virtually every newspaper, book, and magazine you're ever read has put one space after all punctuation. (And so has this Web site.)

Your next step

Now let's turn to the look of your document's first page.

Copyright 2007 by Edward P. Bailey
(all rights reserved)