How Your Font Can Be the Written Equivalent of Wearing Board Shorts


How Your Font Can Be the Written Equivalent of Wearing Board Shorts

Let’s imagine that you have been invited in to make a presentation to a prospective, large client. 

You’ve been trying to get this buyer’s attention for months (maybe years), and at last, it’s happened.  You will be entering the boardroom, armed with your pitch and some handouts, all thoroughly prepared, ready to knock their socks off and leave them with absolutely no alternative other than to give you a contract.

Exciting isn’t it? But what do you wear? What is going to make a good first impression? If you are presenting to a large company, I would suggest that business attire is the way to go. No board shorts and T-shirts or crumpled clothes that have been ‘hanging up’ on the floor for a week. The first impression you give to your audience in that boardroom will set the tone for the remainder of your presentation. They can’t un-see your inappropriate dress.

It’s the same with your proposals and tender documents. First impressions really do count. In my previous Smallville article, Tell your business story with pictures to draw attention and interest, I wrote about using images, and they are, an important part of your presentation. But believe it or not, the font you use is also just as important.

Back in the dark ages when I was starting out in my business career, we didn’t have the plethora of fonts to choose from that we have today. The rise of computer power allowed people like Steve Jobs to go to town on creating fonts, so now there are hundreds of thousands of them, maybe millions.

But just because they’re there, that doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Just the opposite in fact. Like your outfit for the presentation; conservative is (mostly) better. You want the reader to believe that this is a serious document.

Serif or sans-serif?

As a general rule, formal business proposals and tenders should be presented using a serif font. They’re the ones with the little bits at the top and bottom of the letters. This is especially the case if you are asked to supply a printed copy or if you know that it will be printed out for reading. Serif fonts are easier to read on a printed page, and they are considered to be more formal and business-like. Probably the best-known serif font and the one most often used in proposals and tenders is Times New Roman. You can’t go wrong with this steadfast, authoritative favourite.

On-screen, however, the sans-serif fonts are easier to read. If the screen is low resolution, the bits on the letters can look blurred; the equivalent of your crumpled dress. So, if you know that your proposal is only going to be viewed online, you can use something like Arial, Verdana or Helvetica.

Again, go for the conservative choice. Here on Smallville, the team have been a bit more adventurous and gone for Raleway for the body text; portraying the forward thinking that this site is renowned for.


You get a bit of leeway with the headings. I usually combine a serif font with sans-serif headings. Have a look at your LinkedIn articles. The default text is a serif font, but the headings are sans-serif. Smallville uses a sans-serif font for both body text and headings.

Is there a preferred font?

I’ve already mentioned several fonts that are perfectly safe to use in your proposal and tender documents. But there is one more that you need to be aware of, Baskerville.

In 2012, the New York Times asked readers to rate the ‘believability’ of a series of written statements. The statements were the same but written in different fonts, and the font used, made a significant difference as to whether the readers believed the statements or not. And the winner was … Baskerville. Not only was Baskerville the most ‘believable’, but it also had the lowest ‘disagreement’ score.

So, there it is. Using Baskerville in your proposals will impart both the formality of a serif font and the secret weapon of believability. The written equivalent of that smart business attire you will wear to the boardroom to make the best possible impression on your prospective client.

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