I recently received an email written in a bright color and the Comic Sans font, and I was surprised at my negative reaction. As far as business emails go — as well as my go-to Word default — Times New Roman, size 12, is my jam. I blame it on my journalism roots. Arial isn’t bad, either. I like them both.
But why, other than my own nostalgia, do the Times New Roman and Arial fonts seem so much more professional and comfortable to me than a brightly colored Comic Sans? Is it because Comic Sans looks like handwriting?
Just like most people, I turned to Google for the answer. While some articles and blogs I found discussed the readability — some fonts are just easier to read for a greater number of people than others — one topic that struck me was tone.
Tone in a written communication that doesn’t exactly involve the actual words. Interesting. I like it.
One reason I found the Comic Sans could have bothered me — and the most likely — was it has a young feeling, almost childlike, and in this case, could possibly take on the tone of condescension, even if it was unintended by the sender.
This Indeed blog, although more geared to writing business emails to seek employment, had some good tips on fonts and why you should use certain ones. I also found a post at The Balance Careers blog that can walk you through choosing a font based on your intended use and its size.
But if you stick to strictly Google, the most searched fonts for business are Helvetica, Verdana, Calibri, Arial, Times New Roman and Georgia. Something to note: all of these popular business fonts are 12-point font, but they still vary in size.
Aside from how a font makes you feel, everyone should be able to read it. While you commonly know who you’re emailing, sometimes in a business setting you don’t. When choosing a font and size, think about those who may use any sort of adaptive technology in order to read it. Often, we aren’t aware of sight issues or the technologies people use, so font and size is one of the more basic ways to make your email accessible and easy to read for everyone.
According to this blog from the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, “When all else fails, the best option for an accessible website is a popular font with a clean, sans serif aesthetic. Some of the most appropriate fonts in this regard are Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Sans, Tahoma, and Verdana.”
Although it relates to website fonts, the same guideline could be used for emails. And in this case, my comfort with Times New Roman wouldn’t be the same for others because it’s a serif font (denoted by the little bases at the bottom of each letter) instead of the aforementioned sans serif (minus the little bases).
What that single, brightly colored Comic Sans email reminded me is fonts matter. Probably even more than you may think, whether it’s to convey tone or provide easy readability for everyone.
Tiffannie Bond is Imagine Communications’ public relations director and company photographer and a not-so-secret font nerd. She challenges you to count the number of fonts that appear on the box the next time you order pizza.