Tweaking Font Size and Spacing

My enumeration schemes are an important part of my repertoire. There’s the one in MSCD, then there’s the hanging-indent scheme I unleashed in this 2015 post.

But despite my control-freakery, I’ve not paid a lot of attention to two aspects of my scheme, namely point size and spacing. I went with the Word default, which was then Calibri 11 point, with 10 points after and single spacing.

Well, the Word default has now shifted to 8 points after with multiple line spacing at 1.08.

And to complicate matters, the Numbering Assistant, developed by Payne Group, now uses 12 points after headings. That’s relevant because as a favor to me, Payne Group has long incorporated the “articles” and “sections” variants of my scheme—now schemes—as options in the Numbering Assistant. That gives my readers a simple way to adopt whichever of my schemes appeals to them. (Go here for more about my relationship with the Numbering Assistant.) But having 12 points after headings and 10 points after everything else is odd.

So I feel I have to do something. As a way to start thinking about this, I’ve prepared three simplified versions of my hanging-indent scheme:

  • The old Word default (11 point Calibri, with 10 points after and single spacing) (PDF here)
  • The new Word default (11 point Calibri, with 8 points after and multispace spacing at 1.08) (PDF here)
  • An alternative format (12 point Calibri, with 12 points after and multispace spacing at 1.15) (PDF here)

Here are my current thoughts on these choices:

If I want the Numbering Assistant to continue to make sense as a way to apply my schemes, I should shift to 12 point Calibri. So I asked around. According to the Payne Group, among those law firms that use Calibri, some use 11 point and others use 12 point. Deborah Savadra, aka @legalofficeguru, told me that her own preference would be somewhat larger than 11 point (at least 12 point).

Regarding points after, Payne Group presumably opted for 12 points after because that’s what most law firms use. (Generally, I don’t make it a habit of limiting myself to what law firms do.) Deborah told me she favors points-after that matches the font point size.

Regarding line spacing, Payne Group has told me that most law firms use single spacing, although a few of those that use Calibri as their default font style using 1.15 line spacing. Here’s what Deborah told me:

I’ve come to appreciate the merits of 1.15 spacing (which is what Microsoft’s standard was before 1.08), even if it was designed more for web than paper publishing. Long stretches of grey text wear the eye out, and that first glance at a densely-packed document can create a powerful first impression, positive or negative. A little extra negative space between the lines in longer documents is, I think, a good thing.

(Go here for Deborah’s post on Lawyerist about line spacing.) I also consulted Matthew Butterick, he of Typography for Lawyers, who volunteered that he “would always vote against single line spacing.”

So, dear reader, which of the above arrangements should use? Or should I do something else entirely? I invite you to vote in the poll below. And comment if you see fit.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

17 thoughts on “Tweaking Font Size and Spacing”

  1. Since you ask… I use Calibri 11 point for most purposes. I use single line spacing, with zero before or after the line, both for headings and ordinary text. Then spacing, when needed, comes from inserting a space between lines. If text needs to be spaced out, I go for 1.5 spacing between lines.

    • “Then spacing, when needed, comes from inserting a space between lines.” *does spit take* Please report immediately to the Word Users Rehabilitation Unit, Block C, Wormwood Scrubs. Tell ’em Ken sent you.

      • Yes, guv. I actually know someone who teaches IT skills to prisoners in a London prison, possibly Wormwood Scrubs. I have a funny, and slightly risque, story about him, but it isn’t about contract drafting, so I won’t tell it here.

  2. Ken:

    I prefer a serif font, so I use 11-point Cambria (which I think was one of your alternate suggestions in MSCD), with 11 points of space after and single spacing.

    Apart from that, I think that well-written contract text tends to be broken up into pretty small bits by articles, sections, and lists. In my commercial contracts, I rarely have the wall of text that really needs the extra space between lines. The space between paragraphs breaks it up enough.

    If I was regularly doing M&A transactions, where you tend to get giant blobs of text, I might want more space between lines, as I prefer when reading a novel.


  3. I am using a hanging-indent scheme most of the time, and MSCD schemes some of the time. I’m using Calibri 11pt with 12pt paragraph spacing and 1.1li line spacing in most documents. 11pt type with 11pt paragraph spacing would align a little bit better, but I haven’t gone through my templates and styles to make that fiddly change. If a document seems to have the wrong “color” (line density), I may use line spacing as narrow as 1.08li or as wide as 1.15li.

    I took the step of building Word .dotx template files with a few variants on your hanging-indent systems. I also imported the numbering schemes stored in Payne’s Numbering Assistant. The .dotx files let me build a more complete style set than what seems to be stored in Numbering Assistant. Then, I can use the desired template to start a new document. I can also attach a template to an existing document to implement the template styles in that document. I sometimes have to attach a template manually if the process of switching schemes in Numbering Assistant doesn’t go cleanly.

  4. The correct answer for contract text is “get a copy of MSCD, read it, internalize it, and follow all the rules there.” The correct answer for contract typography is the same, but replace MSCD with Butterick.

    • Your $.04 endorsement fee is in the mail! But regarding typography, I believe that Butterick himself would say that he understands why I think his guidelines don’t really apply to contracts. Contract text serves a different function, and a different readership, than does general legal writing and litigation writing. It’s more broken up. You don’t read it straight through. And it doesn’t seek to persuade anyone. That’s why, for example, I’m OK with Calibri, although Butterick presumably disdains it (gently).

  5. While I suppose no detail is too small for consideration . . . this one is getting mighty close. Are you sure those three examples are different? I think that this is a case in which, for avoiding the ravages of decision fatigue, one should consider the question once and then be done with it.

    **** and am I the only one reading here who finds 11- and even 12-point type, when reduced to paper, too small to read comfortably? Cambria 13, 12 after, now switching to 1.15 spacing.

    Thanks for this great blog, where I learn something every time.

    Bob Jessup

    • 1/ Agree that we are approaching the molecular, if not yet the atomic.

      2/ You are not alone in wanting larger font: I prefer 14-point Cambria, always in drafts and usually in final.

      3/ I join you in gratitude to Ken for this great and instructive blog.

      4/ Don’t like hanging indents. Besides being a wasteful way to show hierarchy, it makes for loads of hard-reading column widths.

  6. Times New Roman 12 pt is what I see prevalently used in contracts and it is what is required in most common college formats (MLA and APA); however, my personal go-to font is Calisto MT 12pt which I find is a nice updated look to Times New Roman and doesn’t take up anymore real estate on the page. I will use Calibri for when I need a smaller font to fit more text (i.e. on file labels), but find it to be too small for long documents.

  7. I’m a Solicitor, and for my practice I use Calibri 11 (Calibri 12 is too big unless the person reading it has milk bottle glasses) and 1.15 spacing.

    Text too close together is an unreadable wall of text, and too far apart and each line is a new paragraph and therefore doesn’t “follow” when you’re reading it. I think 1.15 is the sweet spot and certainly wouldn’t go higher or lower than 1.08.

    Kind Regards



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