5 Typography essentials for academic texts

Typography can affect everything from the mood of a text to how convincing its arguments are. When self-publishing a thesis or working paper, or even in preparing a piece for review it’s good to follow these rules to make your texts as readible and visually pleasing as possible.

  1. Use a serif typeface (font) for the main text and a sans serif typeface for headings, tables and figures. Serif fonts are easier to read because the little feet guide the eye from one word to the next. Sans serif fonts are easier for reading short pieces of text.Serif versus sans serif type
  2. Use no more than two typefaces in a single document. Being consistent with typefaces makes a document feel polished and pulled together. And make sure the two fonts match.
  3. Use different weights and italics for emphasis but never underline. All typefaces today come with at least “Regular” or “Roman” and “Bold”. And a lot of modern typefaces have many different weights–Helvetica Neue automatically comes loaded with weights from ultra-light to bold to heavy. Using a good type with many available weights gives you more flexibility in emphasis. But never, never, never underline text; it’s a nasty hold-over from typewriters.
  4. Be conservative. A good font is like a good sofa: you don’t notice it but it’s comfortable. Good standby serif typefaces are: Garamond, Computer Modern (in LaTeX), Sabon, Bodoni, Caslon and Baskerville. Good conservative sans serif choices are Helvetica, Helvetica Neue, Myriad Pro and Gill Sans.
  5. Adjust your margins so you have 50-60 characters per line. This is the optimal line number of characters for readability. Much longer and the reader gets tired from long lines. Much shorter disrupts the flow.

About Jessica Jewell

Jessica Jewell is an Associate Professor at Chalmers University of Technology and a Professor at University of Bergen where she researches the feasibility of climate action (https://www.polet.network).
This entry was posted in Graphics, Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to 5 Typography essentials for academic texts

  1. Ale says:

    Hi Jessica, thanks for the nice post. I cannot open the last link “optimal line number of characters for readability”


  2. Csaba Pusztai says:

    Speaking of weights and other font properties being used to add visual structure to text structure, I think it is also a good idea to only change as few properties as possible when emphasizing two adjacent levels of hierarchy. So for instance you want to distinguish Level 1 and Level 2 headings. Changing font size should suffice. Try to avoid changing the font itself or the weight or other properties (color). That would be confusing.


  3. Cliff Thier says:


    Serifs hold the characters together creating a unified word. A kind of visual glue. Their function is not to move the eye to the next word.

    Also, the more characters per line the greater the leading should be. Leading is measured from baseline on one line of type to the baseline of the next line of type. In typography it is measured in points. There are 72 points per inch.

    So, when the eye reaches the end of one long line, the white space between that line and the next line serves as a guide to the beginning of the next line. Very short lines—such as those in newspaper columns—can get away with very little leading and thereby get more words per square inch.



  4. rms says:

    Reblogged this on Musings on Interesting Things and commented:
    Excellent and short article on Typography. Agree with everything said here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Chelsea Rebelo says:

    Reblogged this on Geo-chat.


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