Online groups, autumn 2012

Typefaces for printed documents

For a printed document that has much text, is a serif typeface better than a sans serif typeface for the body text?

Some members think that for online documents, sans serif typefaces are clearer than serif typefaces.

If a document is supplied as a printed document and as an online document, and if the online document has a sans serif typeface, then for consistency, use a sans serif typeface for the printed document.

Some members think that serif typefaces are best for both online documents and printed documents. With some sans serif typefaces such as Arial, some letters appear the same as other letters. For example, uppercase letters i and l appear the same. To make sure that text is not ambiguous, all the uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and the ten digits, must be different. Context is not sufficient to prevent ambiguous text.

A member who worked on a chemistry project persuaded a customer to change the Arial typeface. With Arial, a reader cannot see the difference between the symbol for the element chlorine (Cl) and the combination of symbols for the elements carbon and iodine (CI).

According to organizations that are on the BSI committee for accessibility for disabled people, some people who have visual impairments can read sans serif typefaces more easily than serif typefaces.

For text that will be translated, do not use a typeface for English if that typeface cannot be used in the translated language. The open source typefaces from Deja Vu can be used with languages such as Polish and Russian.

A useful book is Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works (

See these web pages:

Numbers: digits or words?

A member writes that for much technical communication, the numbers one to ten are written as words and numbers larger than ten are written as digits. His colleagues in Switzerland think that people who read English as a second language will understand more easily if all numbers are written as digits.

Many members think that there is no correct answer. For scientific and technical communication, many style guides recommend that for quantities of measure, numbers are written as digits. For example, write 5cm, not five cm.

For documents that are translated, the simplest option is to use digits.

Some numbers that are written as words can be ambiguous. For example, in the UK, a billion used to be 1012. Now, a billion is 109.

For websites, Jakob Nielsen recommends that numbers are shown as digits (

Measure of performance

An organization is starting lean production ( Part of the strategy is to measure performance. The organization has only one technical communicator. He wants to know how he can measure his performance.

Another organization has only one technical communicator. She keeps a record of all the customer documentation. From that record, she knows the status of each document (current, draft, issued). A chart shows when she is busy and when she is not busy. She keeps a record of when people ask for changes to documents and when she changes the document. She gives this information to her managers, so that they can see her performance.

Another member thinks that numbers such as how many documents or words are produced are not useful, because they do not measure quality. A metric such as the change in the number of telephone calls to a service desk is not useful, because the number of telephone calls is dependent on more than only technical documentation.

Specify the purpose of the technical documentation. For each metric, agree a satisfactory level of performance. Members suggested metrics such as these:

Rachel Potts wrote two articles for Communicator. The source articles are on Rachel's blog:


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