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.

14 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Times New Roman”

  1. I am an advocate of, and recommend, using Garamond (12 point) for contracts and legal briefs and memoranda. It’s an elegant font and highly readable. The only downside I’ve found with Garamond is that in italics it is slightly difficult to read on-screen (although in print it’s fairly legible). When given a choice, I always use Garamond over Times New Roman (or anything else for that matter).

  2. I typed a very short sentence in Times New Roman 12, then repeated the same sentence immediately below in Garamond 12.

    The Garamond 12 version came out looking about 5/6ths the length of the Times New Roman version. If TNR was geared for the narrow columns of newspapers, it seems Garamond would be even better (for newspapers, but not legal docs).

  3. Patrick: I’m not sure that your test of Garamond is representative. The caption to figure 5.2 in “The Complete Manual of Typography” says as follows: “The ‘standard’ width for the lowercase alphabet of a text font is 13 ems. As shown here, the perennial favorite Times Roman is in fact quite a bit narrower than that. A classic book face such as Stempel Garamond comes in right about on the mark, whereas some more contemporary faces tend to run a bit wider.”

    I hasten to add that I haven’t yet done my own road testing of typefaces.


  4. A quick test on my own system reveals that Garamond is almost 13 (close to 12.7) ems, but TNR is closer to 13.5ems.

    On another note, I’m very cautious of changing fonts away from ones that I know everyone has installed for fear of ugliness and reversion.

    Frankly, I’m much more likely to futz with paragraph alignment and font-size than I am to play with typeface.

    The worst thing, at least in regards to typeface, I’ve recieved from opposing counsel was one where they had badly messed with character spacing. That makes things really weird until you realized what’s happening.

  5. Our firm uses FuturaA Bk BT as a standard. I’ve compared it with those that have been suggested. The Century (I could only find Gothic, not Schoolbook) and FuturaA Bk BT seem to be the clearest and easiest to read on-screen. The Century seems unnecessarily large once printed. The Garamond and TNR actually seem quite comparable.

  6. In case you are interested in some font trivia,
    The Financial Post (Canada) on Saturday Oct. 14, 2006 published an interesting article.

    I roughly paraphrase some of it:

    Among the facts were trivia like Beyonce and Bjork had commissioned their own fonts.

    Designers, including typeface designers, have told me that a font’s history as well as its application give it allure. One story circulating is about Steve Jobs from Apple. He is supposed to have taken calligraphy classes while at university (rather than attending other potentially more useful courses!), and when looking for a unique look for his computer, included as early fonts some of his learned calligraphy styles.

    Some well known designers of fonts include Matthew Carter, who created Verdana which was one of the internet’s first (later to become default font of choice), as well as Georgia. Both were commissioned by Microsoft as signature fonts. Carter also created Bell Centennial, seen in US phone directories.

    Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones of Hoefler/Frere Jones Foundry are prolific creators.

    Arial is to Helvetica, apparently, as designer knock-offs are to couture gowns. H is 50 years old, and has been used for public signs, partly due to its “neutral” quality. H was believed to add no emotion to the words it portrayed.

    Gotham is one of more popular fonts of the decade. Check out popular book publications.

    Also, check out Typographica,an online daily journal of typography. It has the top ten typefaces for recent years, and evaluates their quality and longevity.


  7. Contracts that I drafted were done in Times because I knew they print OK wherever I sent them. Times is the standard in Florida courts and in much of the federal govrnment. It is not my favorite.

    I used Palatino for my office correspondance, althought typographers will tell you it has been vastly overused. I expetimented with Myriad (Apple’s corporate font), but did not want to pay the steep licensing fees for the full set of fonts.

    Here is a comment on the new faces coming in Microsoft’s Vista.

    My compliments for reading Felici and caring enough to have your documents look good.

  8. I have been using Book Antiqua for nearly two years in all of my appellate briefs. I changed from Times New Roman after consulting the website for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which has an extensive section on fonts, typeface and formatting. Basically, it boils down to the fact that appellate drafting and trial court drafting are two different animals.

  9. I have been using Book Antiqua for years (yay for you Mark, I’ve never seen anyone else even mention the font), and I love it. I absolutely abhor Times New Roman (and Times Roman) for some reason, and I honestly have no idea why I use Book Antiqua. But as far as sans serif fonts go, Tahoma or Verdana win in my opinion.


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