Workable fonts, and a tip for proofreading

Do you have a favourite font for on-screen work? Or do certain fonts hurt your eyes the minute you open the file?

I’ve been working on a short translation project consisting of two interview transcripts of about 600 words each. Both of the source texts were in Arial 12-point, justified, without a single paragraph break. It made me feel dizzy just to look at them. The first thing I did, before even thinking about paragraph breaks, was to change them to Verdana, my preferred font for on-screen work.

We had a Twitter conversation about this. Times New Roman got a definite thumbs-down and Arial more nays than yays, while views on Verdana were about equally balanced. Tahoma also got a good review. Here’s a comparison (all 12-point):

Verdana, Arial, Tahoma and Times New Roman - fonts compared

A proofreading tip

Karen Tkaczyk (aka @ChemXlator) offered a useful tip: if you change the font for proofreading, you’ll pick up different aspects of your text that you wouldn’t otherwise have noticed. She says it works both on-screen and, her preferred method, on paper.

My own proofreading method is to print out the text and read it on paper, but for times when you don’t have access to a printer changing the font sounds like a good idea. And I’ll definitely try changing the font next time I proofread on paper.

Gillian Hargreaves (@ghargreaves) also prints out for the final check. She uses a CAT tool (memoQ, default font Tahoma) on-screen and prints out in the source text font – so again, a change of font for the final read-through.

What about you? What are your favourite/least favourite fonts for on-screen work? Or do you have any proofreading tips to share?

Other posts you might like:

Cut printing costs: use Century Gothic

Nouning and verbing: an ask too far? 

Smart quote-marks for smart translating

By Marian Dougan



Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

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  1. I haven’t actually printed a document for proofing in a long time but it’s worth considering, especially when you are getting started. It takes a while to learn how to catch your own mistakes. After that, using a different font onscreen may be enough. It fits in my workflow (DVX2, proofing in External View.)

    Another trick is to change the font by one or two sizes, or change the margin by an inch or two. Either one causes the line breaks to occur in different places, forcing you to look at the test differently. For example, you may have seen an example like this one, which has two mistakes:

    For he’s a
    a jolly good
    fellow. A
    stitch in
    in time saves

    Steven Marzuola

    1. Thanks, Steven. I find it really hard to catch all my mistakes on screen, especially when it’s a question not of spelling/typos but of style. It’s only when I see the text on paper that I really see what works or doesn’t work.
      Like you, I change font size for the final read-through – to 8 or 8.5 (if I’m using Verdana)

  2. I never even thought about different fonts printing with different amounts of ink… Thanks for the tips!

    For proofreading, especially later at night, I don’t change the font itself—I increase the font size. I like to make the text big enough that it’s like a standard news column; only 10-12 words per line, maximum. It helps change the line breaks and gives my eyes a rest.

    1. Yes, there’s even a font called “Ecofont” that’s got holes in it to reduce ink use. But Century Gothic apparently uses even less.
      As for proofreading, I always print out the document but in a smaller point size – I use 12 on-screen but 8 or 8.5 on paper. So again, it changes the visual effect. It’s interesting that you prefer to use a bigger font size.

  3. I have to say that I don’t have any issues with fonts, i.e. I have never changed a font just because it was irritating when translating. I am a fan of Times New Roman, though.

    As for proofreading techniques, nothing beats reading the text on paper, but I will definitely try out changing the font (perhaps into Verdana)! Thank you for an interesting post!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ewa. My problem with fonts like Arial on-screen is that I find them hard to read, it’s not just an aesthetic question. And I agree – you see so much more when you read the text on paper. Like you, I’ll be trying the font-change technique for my proofreading.

  4. Thanks for the tip on changing fonts when proofreading. What a clever trick! I will definitely try it next time.
    I agree, Times New Roman is so outdated! I really like Verdana, Tahoma or Calibri – they are all light and easy to read without too much effort! However, one of my pet peeves is when the text is not justified – eek!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Emeline. I use Calibri for letters, invoices etc on my business letterhead. I prefer non-justified, I find it easier to read (and it eliminates big gaps in the text, especially when you’ve got lots of long words).

    1. I wear glasses too, for reading and computer work, and I find Verdana much easier to read. That’s why I prefer it – it’s a practical rather than aesthetic choice.

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