Nice Essay Fonts

Last week I saw a documentary called Helvetica, which explored the history and culture of typefaces, and the sans-serif Helvetica font in particular. It got me thinking more about the almost sub-conscious power of the fonts used in the writing all around us, and the ones I use myself. (It’s a fun and elegant documentary by the way, and not at all as boring or geeky as it might sound.)

Coincidentally, a couple of days later I came across a blog posting called The Secret Lives of Fonts, in which the author reviewed 52 papers he wrote for university courses and found that on average he got better grades on the ones where he used serif fonts than on the ones where he used sans-serif fonts. He writes:

Well, would you believe it? My essays written in Georgia did the best overall. This got me thinking as to why that might be: maybe fonts speak a lot louder than we think they do. Especially to a professor who has to wade through a collection of them; Times seems to be the norm, so it really doesn’t set off any subconcious triggers. Georgia is enough like Times to retain its academic feel, and is different enough to be something of a relief for the grader. Trebuchet seems to set off a negative trigger, maybe just based on the fact that it’s not as easy to read in print, maybe on the fact that it looks like something off a blog rather than an academic journal. Who knows.

What fonts do you use, and have you noticed patterns like these? Professors and TAs, do you have typeface preferences for the papers you need to grade? Is there something to this?

Myself, I like Verdana, but I’m mostly reading my own words on screens now. Maybe I should think again and change the font just before I print it out…

How to Make an Essay Look Longer

It’s somewhat difficult to make demands on essays for students – demanding that they have 500 words, for example, leads to really, really, very, extremely superfluous lists of adjectives and describing words like this sentence to up the word count. Other teachers use the page count as a metric of completion. But what happens when you have 4 and a half pages done of your five page essay? There are plenty of writing techniques to flesh ideas out and make it longer, but I’m assuming that your essay is perfect as it is and you want a more technological answer. Here are a few techniques that have served me well. I use them all the time.

Note: This tutorial is for Microsoft Word as a part of Office 2007, although many of the same techniques can be used in previous or subsequent versions of Word.

Font Choice and Font Size

First, font or font size is a fairly easy way to make an essay longer. Some teachers demand that Times New Roman size 12 be used. However, when they forget to add that to the rules, you can change it to whatever you want (assuming there’s no blanket statement about it on the syllabus). You want to choose a font that maximizes height. Obviously you don’t want to choose a font that’s too difficult to read, as it may annoy the person grading it. Below is a picture of the word “Hello” printed four times, each at size 12. The fonts, from left to right, are “Angsana New”, “Calibri”, “Times New Roman”, and “Algerian”.

Font size can also make a big impact on your paper. Going with a size 72 font will undoubtedly make your paper surpass the required page count, but isn’t the best idea. Just changing the font size from 12 to 13 can add a few lines to your paper. Below is a picture of identical text in two columns, both in Times New Roman, but size 12 on the left and size 13 on the right.

Even if your teacher demands size 12 Times New Roman, you might be tempted to change it anyway. Slight changes are fairly hard to measure in a printout, however, it is possible. For instance, if a teacher were to print out the word “the” in Times New Roman size 12 on a piece of transparency paper, they could then hold it over a word “the” in your essay and confirm whether or not it’s identical. Probably not going to happen, but it actually has happened to me before.

Space Between lines

The spacing between lines is very difficult to measure because although in most fonts the top and bottom edges vary significantly. In some fonts, there is a common edge except for letters that hang above or below the line, but in fonts that are meant to look more like handwriting, there is not. In any case, even with common edges, it’s not likely that your teacher will whip out a ruler and measure. Too large a gap may arouse suspicion, but changing an essay from double spaced to 2.1 spacing may actually make a large difference. The thing to remember is that the longer the base essay, the more they amplify the length. So for instance, if your essay is 10 lines with double spacing, and you change the spacing to 2.1, you get an extra 0.1 of a line for every line you’ve written, and 0.1×10 = 1. So, for every ten lines you actually write, you get the effect of having written eleven instead. For an essay that’s 4.5 pages, this tiny change can easily bring you over the 5 page mark and is virtually undetectable. Below is two paragraphs, the left with single spacing and the right is 1.1 spacing. This really demonstrates the potential of the small change.

To change the spacing between lines, you’ll need to access the “Paragraph” menu (I believe that in older versions of Word this could be done by going to Format -> Paragraph). In Word 2007, it can be accessed by going to the “Page Layout” tab of the ribbon and clicking on the pop-out button of the Paragraph rectangle.

From there, under Line Spacing, choose “Multiple”, and under At, choose a number close to something normal, like 1.1 or 2.1. You can increase this difference at the risk of the teacher noticing.


Changing the margins of a page is another great way to change the length of your paper. By decreasing the amount of space the words can take up per page, you increase the number of pages required to fit your existing content. Changing the left margin is a bit risky since most papers are left-justified, meaning that the left edge will be relatively the same for all papers. The right margin, however, can be changed to your heart’s content, since the length of words, number of letters, and number of spaces greatly affect each line’s right edge. You can also increase the amount of space taken up by the header and footer of a document.

Lengthen Header Content

One final way you can make a paper appear longer is by adding more lines to the header of your document. If you make it too long, be sure to have it on only the first page and not every page, as this would be incredibly obvious.

Other Notes

If your teacher demands that an essay be 5 pages long and no longer, but your paper is slightly longer, you can use these same techniques in reverse to make your paper look shorter. For instance, you can change double spacing to 1.9 spacing, or increase the margins.

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