The Tyranny of Times New Roman

In a recent post on one space versus two, I cited The Complete Manual of Typography, by James Felici. Since then, I’ve continued reading this book, and I found very interesting what it had to say about the typeface Times New Roman:

The most popularly used text faces today are Monotype’s Times New Roman and Linotype’s version of it, Times Roman. Vast numbers of paperback books and corporate communications are churned out with these faces every year. But in fact, Times is not a classic text face. Designed for use by the Times of London (as its new roman face, back in the 1930s), it has comparatively narrow characters, the better to compose well the short lines of newspaper columns. Book publishers adopted it because it saved them paper.

A typeface of “standard” width has a lowercase alphabet that’s 13 ems long. The relative widths of some common text faces are shown in Figure 5.2 [omitted]. Clearly, Times sets narrower than the rest, and the wider set of the others not only makes them easier to read but also creates a more open impression on the page. This openness is more in proportion with the wider line length typical of books and journals. The lines set in Times in Figure 5.3 [omitted] seem crowded when compared with a more standard book face. With all that room on the line, why crowd the text like that?

Times is probably used inappropriately more than any other typeface today. Ironically, it’s no longer commonly used in newspapers, not even the Times.

Like virtually every other lawyer, when I use a serif typeface (rather than a sans serif typeface such as Arial), I use Times New Roman. But I never made a conscious decision to do so. Instead, I started using Times New Roman simply because it’s the default font in Microsoft Word.

Well, the scales have fallen from my eyes, and I’m now on a search for a typeface to replace Times New Roman. Possible candidates include the new suite of typefaces included with the Microsoft Vista operating system and the Microsoft Office 2007 suite of applications. These typefaces were apparently created for extended on-screen reading, but some are suitable for print. (Go here for more information.)

This is an issue I’ll be looking into over the coming months. Given that lawyers traffic in words, they might as well use an optimal typeface.

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.