The ‘micro’ considerations of instructional design: The Use of Fonts

A question not enough people think to ask when creating a course is “what font should we use?” It’s more important than it seems! Text that’s difficult to read can suggest to learners that the content will be equally hard work. The type of font you use for your course content should be determined by a number of factors including your audience, subject and content. You should be aware that particular fonts are often designed for a specific purpose. We’ve listed a few examples below that can help with your choices of style for your course.

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As a general guideline, serif fonts are easier to read on paper, and sans serif fonts are easier to read from a screen. Slab serif fonts work well when readability from a distance is an issue - so for headlines, posters, and sometimes for smaller print. Script fonts should be used lightly - a whole course in Lucinda or Sofia will give anyone a headache!

We would generally advise that you shouldn’t use more than two or three different fonts in any one presentation. Use a 12-point or larger size for the main body text - bearing in mind that 12-point will appear in different sizes on-screen, depending on the font, as  shown below:

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If you use Microsoft Word you are probably familiar with the built in styles (Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2, Title, etc.), and you’ll know from using the Microsoft Font Style Tool that the styles of text are organised by priority. Your eLearning course should follow a similar hierarchy of styles when organizing your written content. For example:

Heading 1/Title: These styles tend to stand out, being stronger and more noticeable.

Heading 2/Subtitle/Subheading: These are generally used to segment content, but don’t stand out in the same way.

Body text: This is what should be used for paragraphs and bullet lists. It’s more concerned with readability/legibility, and the more text you have the more you need to be able to read it

Caption/call out/emphasis: There are always certain places in the course or certain points you may need to emphasize. This can be achieved by using italics, bolding text or using a different color. Don’t overuse this - if you end up with more than one word or phrase emphasized in a sentence, consider rewriting to avoid that.

Try not to use all upper case in text. While it can be useful for headings or occasionally for stressing an important point, overusing capitals can LOOK LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING AT YOUR LEARNERS. Always keep in mind that the use of capitals, fonts and graphic elements need to align with each other. You’ll also need to ensure that the color of font you choose works with the overall color theme so that it’s readable. You should be mindful that a fixed color font will appear differently when set on a different background - so always do what you can to ensure legibility.

Design aspects like font choice should be already decided prior to building your course. This lays the foundations of the “style” of your course. Consistency is a key element of good presentation, so assign a single color to your titles and subtitles, and keep font size and color the same throughout - except where you’re deliberately changing it for emphasis.

Font choices help ensure you are setting the right tone for your course. The message below is repeated four times using different fonts. You will notice how the choice of font sets a different tone

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As we explained in our previous micro considerations blog (which focused on color), understanding more about fonts will make it easier to choose the right one to suit the context of your course. It can still be a daunting task but fortunately there are numerous font-focused websites that can help you with your decision, such as:

www.fontsquirrel.com;

www.dafont.com;   

www.myfonts.com;  

www.1001fonts.com