Edit: If you’re interested in alternative fonts that look nice try:

The hatred of Comic Sans is well documented elsewhere. Today I am going to inform you all of the special science rage I get whenever I see Comic Sans used in any sort of professional science setting.

Last month I went to the American Chemical Society’s fall meeting in Denver, CO. I learned a great deal, some some amazing presentations, some meh presentations, and then some gouge-my-eyes-out-with-a-pipette awful presentations. I also saw way, waaay, waaaaaaaaaay too many presentations using the infamous Comic Sans font. Even just walking by doors to other sessions I spied nearly 1 out of every 4 presentations as using Comic Sans in some way.

Now let me put it to you straight. Every font has its appropriate uses – even Comic Sans. Say for instance you’re making an invitation to your three year old son’s birthday party. Comic Sans is probably fine. Maybe you’re making a flyer for puppies that are up for adoption. Also a fine use of Comic Sans.

But if you are going to give a professional scientific presentation in front of your peers from across the country where you want to impress them and show them what kind of researcher you are and how awesome your results are – Comic Sans is not the font you want to use. It makes you look like you have no clue as to what you’re doing. And you do want to impress these people – they could be future bosses or people who you want to do a collaboration with or maybe even will be on the reviewing committee for your next big grant proposal to the NSF.

It’s not just graduate students and post docs making this egregious error –  big name researchers do it all the freaking time (*cough Dan Nocera cough*). 

Some people will say “hey, maybe I like comic sans!” and to them I will say that I like cute pictures of kittens as well but I wouldn’t put them in my science presentation.

I made a helpful comic to show you the difference. Enjoy. (Click to embiggen)


8 responses »

  1. iampotassium says:

    Paul you are awesome. 🙂

  2. lizditz says:

    There’s a lot of well uninformed blathering on the intertoobz that “Comic Sans is easier to read”. It isn’t.

    There’s *some* weak evidence that san-serif faces are easier to read in large (display) sizes. Personally I find a lot of text in Gill Sans sort of ugly (the lower-case a is too fussy; too much of a disparity between the shape of the c and the o) but that’s a personal matter. Trebuchet is also fussy, so I prefer Calibiri of the three you mentioned. YMMV.

  3. Bex Hewett says:

    Brilliant. Thank goodness my PhD is about the impact of giant red question marks on brain functioning…comic sans here I come!

  4. A designer writes: Gill Sans = a great font for headlines, not for body text.
    Comic Sans… yeah well you said it. Avoid.
    Calibri bold (you’ve got plain in your example) = okay for headers but it’s a bit monotonous for body text,. Calibri is a good contrast for body text which is why it works so well in Word templates.

    But I’d also go further and say: avoid text altogether. No bullet points, no paragraphs you’re going to read out anyway. Images, nice and big, filling the screen. One or two words that headline your next point. Presentations are not papers, they’re stories. But I want to listen to you, not read along with you.

    I recommend Nancy Duarte’s two books, Slide:ology and Resonate.

    Also, if you want to get scientific about it, what you’re talking about is semiotics. There’s some big words in that field that the “but I like it” crowd might be impressed by… 😉

    • electroncafe says:

      I 100% agree with your statement that text should be eliminated altogether – I would much just rather have one giant beautiful figure when you then explain. Much easier! So many people have statements up there which they then just read… talk about boring.

      Thanks for your insight!

  5. Sarah says:

    The link for Trebuchet doesn’t work for me 😦

  6. Dan Bodoh says:

    I thought of your rage today when my 8-year old son chose Comic Sans (with no assistance from me) for his science fair project. You need to push your message in elementary school science classes: “Science sans Comic Sans”.

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