As a technical writer, you should be aware of certain basics about fonts and some basic rules to observe in your documents. The most basic distinction about fonts is whether they have a “serif” or not. That’s why font families are split into two major categories: Serif and Non-Serif fonts.
A serif is a small tail- or wedge-like appendage that extends outward from the end fo a letter or symbol. “Times Roman,” for example, is a famous serif font and “Arial” is an equally famous non-serif font.
RECOMMENDED RULES of font selection for technical writers:
1) Select your headlines from NON-SERIF fonts (like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Tahoma, Futura, Optima) and your body text from SERIF fonts (like Roman, Times Roman, Times New Roman, Georgia, Bookman).
2) ITALIC is designed to attract attention to itself by virtue of being hard to read. That’s why, in a block of readable text, it makes sense to emphasize a word or a phrase by printing it in Italic.
However, some authors print whole web or print pages in Italic! That defies the whole purpose of the Italic style. Every time you use Italic font, be aware that you are making your words harder to read. Thus use it sparingly, like using pepper while cooking.
3) Do not use more than two or a MAXIMUM of three typefaces in your technical documents. A profusion of typefaces creates confusion in the reader’s mind. When it comes to fonts, less is always more.
4) Do not assume that all computers have access to every font you have. All computers, however, come with a set of built-in “system fonts” that are installed automatically by the operating system. The most famous of these system fonts are Arial, Times Roman, and Courier. If you use these three fonts you can rest assured that your document will appear in the receiving end in the same fonts that you have used on your machine.
If, however, you use a hard-to-get fancy font, the reader’s machine will substitute the “closest font available” to render your document readable. “Optima” for example may be replace with “Arial” and sometimes such substitutions change the way a page is composed, usually for the worse.
Thus, to be safe, stick to the basic “system fonts” when designing a document that you expect to be distributed and read online.