Who's laughing now? Teachers told detested Comic Sans is the right type after all

14th January 2011 at 00:00

Using Comic Sans, the font so unpopular that it has sparked an internet campaign for a ban, could help pupils to remember what they have read, researchers have found.

The font was created by former Microsoft employee Vincent Connare for use in speech bubbles, but it is now used in many contexts.

Now academics from Princeton and Indiana universities have found that it may help pupils to retain information. Researchers Connor Diemand-Yauman, Daniel M Oppenheimer and Erikka B Vaughan said the reason may be that fonts such as Comic Sans are sufficiently unfamiliar to make pupils' brains work harder to comprehend them, without being so different that they stop children reading altogether.

In a paper published in the journal Cognition, they have reported the results of a study with 222 high school students in which teachers from six subjects sent their material to the researchers.

Some materials were left unchanged to act as a control, while others were altered to the fonts Haettenschweiler, Monotype Corsiva or Comic Sans italicised.

Dyslexia campaigners say that as a sans serif font - which does not include the tails, called serifs, of fonts such as Times New Roman - Comic Sans can be more readable and is similar to handwriting.

Previous research has found that students tend to gauge how successful a lesson was by how easy they found it, but the Princeton and Indiana researchers point out that being able to read something is not the same as being able to remember and use it.

It has been shown that making pupils participate in lessons - for example, by writing rather than just reading - creates a "desirable difficulty" which helps them to remember what they have learnt.

The researchers pointed out that, while other forms of desirable difficulty required significant curriculum reform to implement, changing fonts could be adopted "cheaply, easily and without imposing on teachers".

They concluded: "If a simple change of font can significantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneficial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered.

"Fluency demonstrates how small interventions have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole."

Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Italicised), Diemand-Yauman, C, et al.



Dave and Holly Combs' Ban Comic Sans website, although partly tongue-in-cheek, makes the point that typefaces convey a tone of voice.

Using an attention-commanding font such as Impact for a Do Not Enter sign, they say, is appropriate; using Comic Sans is ludicrous. "It is analogous to showing up for a black-tie event in a clown costume."

The linked Facebook page has 12,295 members, whose mission statement is: "By banding together to eradicate this font from the face of the earth we strive to ensure that future generations will be liberated from this epidemic and never suffer this scourge that is the plague of our time."

Examples of inappropriate use include a tombstone, lecture documents on the HIV epidemic, a court summons and a handbook on fire evacuation procedures.

But it cannot be said that the anti-Comic Sans lobby is entirely without a sense of humour after all, as they quote this joke:

Comic Sans walks into a bar. The barman says: "Sorry, we don't serve your type in here."

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