Don’t use a cursive or novelty font.

I debated including this one in the “painfully obvious” section, because hundreds of people have done it over the years, and it’s not as indubitably boneheaded as some of the other things in this section, like sending your bank account information or having your mom write your essay for you. But submitting your essay in cursive or novelty font is still a very horrible, never-advisable, avoid-at-all-costs thing to do. Allow me to explain.

Cursive fonts. Here’s another of many controversial notions in this book: Cursive is dying. I almost said “dead”, but dead means completely extinct, like mastodons; millions of people still write in cursive, of course, most of whom are over 50 years old. I mean that cursive is dying in the same way other once-omnipresent things without anyone to carry on their torch are dying: newspapers, American Indian languages, workplace smoking, and the like. None of them are quite dead yet, but it’s just a matter of borrowed time and everybody knows it.

Cursive used to be considered the “grown-up” way to write. You learned it in the third or fourth grade, and it was expected to be your sole form of written communication by the sixth grade. And just before you left the sixth grade, your teacher would issue a not-so-veiled threat to the entire class: “When you get to junior high, you must write everything in cursive. If you turn in a paper that’s not in cursive, they just throw it right into the garbage.” Then you got to junior high and found out it was all a lie. They were just beating cursive into your head for… well, for no apparent reason. Just because their teachers had done the same thing to them decades ago, with a good paddling thrown in here and there for good measure.

This was long before the personal computer, in a time when no one imagined that computers would ever be affordable enough for everyone to have one and long before the convenience of email would force the entire population to use keyboards. So when you put those two things together: 1) everyone has a computer, and 2) everyone wants to use email instead of write letters, you get 3) no need for cursive. Personally, I think that 50 years from now, the ability to read cursive will be akin to the ability to read Braille or hieroglyphics. They will all be equally foreign to the average reader of English.

So, how does this relate to your scholarship essay? It simply means that going out of your way to use a cursive or script font (fun fact of the day: in cursive fonts, the letters actually touch each other; in script fonts, they don’t), you’re actually making your document more difficult to read.

Novelty fonts. Using novelty fonts is a sin more grave, even, than using cursive fonts. At least cursive used to be considered the fancy, sophisticated way to write. Novelty fonts, on the other hand, have always been for novelty only. That’s why they’re called novelty fonts, people. There’s plenty of room for creativity in the content of your essay, but don’t insert much creativity into your font selection. Have you enjoyed reading this paragraph so far? Of course you haven’t. It’s been a little slower going than reading the rest of this book, now hasn’t it? Now, imagine trying to read an entire scholarship essay written in this font. Not fun. OK, I’m going to change fonts now. You ready for me to change fonts? Are you sure? How about now? OK, I’m really going to change fonts now.

Readability is key (and if reading the above paragraph didn’t prove that to you, nothing will!), so stick with time-tested serif fonts like Times, Times New Roman or Palatino, or sans serifs such as Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana, maybe even Tahoma. Don’t even think about a novelty font: it may make your essay memorable, but only for the annoyance it caused by being so difficult to read.

2 thoughts on “Don’t use a cursive or novelty font.”

  1. I agree mostly, but with two (minor) comments:

    Not all Native American (or American Indian or whatever else is preferred by the group or individual) languages are dying out. Many are, and I haven’t heard that any are doing WELL, but there are communities that use them that will likely stick around for a long while.

    Cursive IS inappropriate for formal typed works. However, even if native-born Americans don’t use it much, it likely won’t die out, even for use in writing American English, because of all the other countries that have the same alphabet that we do but still use cursive extensively. I have had several foreign-born Hispanic co-workers with BEAUTIFUL cursive handwriting (even the men). Their spelling was atrocious (not their fault… English is tough, etc., etc.) but their handwriting was great. Whether cursive writing will make a return, I don’t know, but with the numbers of immigrants – and the resulting non-English-speaking but Latin-alphabet-using communities, cursive writing is probably here to stay for a while at least.

    Otherwise: An extremely useful website. This is definitely going into my bookmarks for future reference.

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