Getting an A on an English Paper

Jack Lynch,
Rutgers University – Newark


There's no rule for the “right” font for an English paper, but you should keep it as simple as possible. Don't load up your paper with a scrillion typefaces, boldface, shadow, colors, and so on; it just tips off your professor that you're wasting time with technical features rather than working on your thesis or your mechanics. Spend your time writing, not playing with the fancy features of your word processor.

But there's some room for variation. Many professors prefer an old-fashioned typewriter-style font such as Courier. It's what's called a fixed-width typeface, meaning every letter takes up the same space: an i and a W both get the same amount. Courier has some advantages over other typefaces: it allows room for markup, and it produces about 250 words on a double-spaced 8.5” x 11” page, so makes word counts easier.

Most other typefaces are proportional, which means each letter gets its own width: compare the width of i and W. Times Roman is a pretty standard default typeface; it's easily readable. Garamond is similar, perhaps a little more ostentatious. Notice that Courier, Times Roman, and Garamond have little “hats” on the tops and bottoms of letters; they're called serifs. Arial, on the other hand — like Helvetica, Swiss, and others — have no serifs; they're called sans-serif faces. Usually serif faces are preferred for academic papers.

Twelve points is the standard size. A point is one seventy-second of an inch, top to bottom, so a twelve-point typeface gives one sixth of an inch to each line. (In fact many word processors add two points — one thirty-sixth of an inch — “leading,” pronounced “ledding,” between lines. But that's getting too technical.) Some typefaces aren't measured in points but by pitch, which is characters per inch, left-to-right. (Note that pitch makes no sense with proportional typefaces, since the width of the characters varies.) The higher the point size, the larger the typeface; the higher the pitch, the smaller the typeface.

But whatever face or size you choose, do give your professors some credit; they're not as stupid as you think they are. They're almost certain to notice if you start playing with fonts to avoid having to write full-length papers. Give 'em a break.

from Jack Lynch's guide,
Getting an A on an English Paper

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