When drafting documents, the voluminous typeface options at our disposal may sometimes leave us overwhelmed and relying on the safety of default options, such as Calibri in the case of Microsoft’s Office Suite, or Arial for Google’s suite of cloud-based applications. But venturing beyond the confines of the defaults can not only help your documents appear less rote, but can also increase the effectiveness of the underlying text.
A 2013 experiment conducted by the New York Times found that the choice of typeface has a measurable impact on the persuasiveness of the underlying text. The experimented tested six fonts—including Helvetica, Georgia, Baskerville, and Comic Sans—and asked readers to rate the believability of a series of statements, each written in a different typeface. Unsurprisingly, the much-maligned Comic Sans was found to be the least persuasive. But it was the text written in Baskerville that was most persuasive to readers. A similar experiment conducted in 2016 also found Baskerville to be the most “trustworthy” typeface.
Of course, when drafting documents for a particular institution, your choice of typeface may be restricted. The Ontario Court of Appeal, for example, “encourages” the use of Arial or Times New Roman for all text in factums. The British Columbia Court of Appeal is even more stringent in its requirements, mandating the use of 12-point Arial for all submissions—a constraint sure to disappoint Matthew Butterick, author of Typography for Lawyers, who once declared “you cannot create good typography with Arial”.
For its part, the Supreme Court of Canada requires the use of Times New Roman or a “comparable font”. Judicial interpretation may be required to clarify whether the sans-serif Arial is “comparable” to the seriffed Times New Roman.
And if you’re still not convinced, try converting this Tip into Baskerville and reading it again.
Shawn Erker (@ShawnErker) is Legal Writer & Content Manager at LAWPRO.