The font you use may affect learning

I just found this in the British Psychological Society’s digest of recent research. I trust they will not mind my copying it here, as I think it is of general interest, particularly to writers and teachers. I offer it in the interest of better understanding of something that affects us all.

Best wishes, Martin.

  1. Harder-to-read fonts boost student learning

Making learning materials more difficult to read can significantly improve student performance. Yes, you read that correctly. Connor Diemand-Yauman and his colleagues think the effect occurs because fonts that are more awkward to read encourage deeper processing of the to-be-learned material.

Diemand-Yauman first tested this principal in the lab with 28 participants (aged 18 to 40) who spent 90 seconds learning the seven features associated with three alien species. Half the students learned from materials written in clear 16-point Arial font, whereas the other half learned from materials written either in 12-point Comic Sans or 12-point Bodoni. As the researchers explained, these last two fonts are obviously more difficult to read when considered side-by-side with the Arial font, but viewed on their own few people would notice anything amiss. Fifteen minutes later the participants were tested and the key finding was that those who learned from the harder-to-read fonts answered 86.5 per cent of questions correctly, compared with the 72.8 per cent success rate achieved by the participants who learned from the clearer font.

For a follow-up study the researchers collaborated with a high school in Ohio. Teachers sent in their work-sheets and power-point slides and the researchers made them more difficult to read. They did this either by switching the fonts to Comic Sans Italicised, Haettenschweiler or Monotype Corsiva, or, if the materials were hand-written, simply by shaking them about in a photo-copier to make them blurry. The history, English and science teachers used the manipulated materials for one of their classes but not the other, which acted as a control. You guessed it, of the 220 participating pupils, those who learned from the harder-to-read materials subsequently performed better in the relevant class assessments than did the pupils who learned from the unadulterated materials (for more statistically minded readers, the effect size was d=.45).

When people find something easy to read, they take that as a sign that they’ve mastered it. Conversely, the researchers believe harder-to-read fonts provoke a feeling of lack of mastery and encourage deeper processing. However, there’s obviously a balance to be struck. If material becomes too difficult to read, some students may simply give up. Another possible mechanism is that the less legible fonts are somehow more distinctive, rendering them more memorable. Diemand-Yauman’s team doubt this explanation because distinctiveness should wear off over time, and anyway they didn’t use any fonts that pupils wouldn’t have seen before.

The researchers think their finding could be the tip of the ice-berg as regards using cognitive findings to boost educational practice. ‘If a simple change of font can significantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneficial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered,’ they said. ‘Fluency demonstrates how small interventions have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole.’

Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D., and Vaughan, E. (2011). Fortune favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118 (1), 111-115

Author weblink: … /index.php

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Further reading. Psychologist magazine article on the fluency effect: … cleID_1629

I have family over so I can’t look this up now but this is the same argument used by pro cursive people. Children who bother to learn cursive AND typing have higher vocab and better reading scores than the kids who just learn to type.

Thanks for the reference!!


So I guess if we all wrote in “Leet” we would all learn better would we not? Here you go. Decipher this and make yourself learn better!

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7®µ£ |)47!

¥3$ 17 |-|4$ 70 ß3 7®µ3!

For the love of Turtle!

Well, it does actually say


Of course, I’d never give up (ahem). But I’ll never forget when the Kriegsarchiv in Vienna sent me some photocopies of hand written 18th century documents. If you think you can read German, take a look at this:

Best, Martin.

The kids now a days can read leet lite better than they can spell simple four letter words. Full leet would not take them much time to adopt.

I truly think though that in future generations thumbs will have an extra joint, be nine inches long, and the rest of the fingers would morph into a contoured mitt to hold a cell phone.

I blame this mutation on texting instead of actual speaking…

Oooh! Those are wonderful! It’s curious how many of them are italian-style cursive. It’s also amusing how many of them are just sloppy. :smiley:


Is it just me who thinks that Arial is ugly and would turn anyone off reading something carefully?

Couldn’t agree more … and I had colleagues at the University of Westminster who believed that the best thing for their students was to give them handouts printed in 16 or 24 point Arial or Helvetica. They used to give me a hard time because my handouts were printed in 10 point Adobe Garamond … and before I got access to a Mac, I was producing my handouts in LaTeX!


There use to be (may still be but I am too lazy to look) a font that I found quite pleasing, “Old Century School Book”. The “New Century School Book” was a travesty of stupid marketing. But “Old”… How my dad hated that fount. I would set the SE30 to use it for all system menus and would forget to set it back. No computer for me!

Arial is actually the “microsoft” version of Helvetica… A very old and over used font…

Well an old rule of thumb is this.

San Serif fonts for headlines (16+ pt) (usually bold)
Serif fonts for body text (8-12pt) (usually regular with italics or bold used sparingly for emphasis)

its the reverse

NEVER double space after a period unless you are writing a formal letter.

Don’t use Foot and Inch marks as quotation marks.

Forced Justify is harder to read but looks pleasing in some presentations.

Avoid over hyphenating (happens in forced justify and auto hyphenate situations) whenever possible.

Avoid orphans at the end of a paragrah.

And the last is consistency. If you chose one style of representing text (like not using a comma before a name title like JR.) then make sure you do that throughout.

Myself I like
Myriad Pro
Adobe Garamond Pro