Posts Tagged proportional font

TNR vs. Courier; Pica vs. Elite

Do you remember “pica” and/or “elite” type on typewriters?  Way back when we didn’t have personal computers, and everything we wrote was either by hand or on a typewriter, we had to choose between pica type, which resulted in 10 characters per inch, or elite, at 12 characters per inch.  I’ve had several typewriters in my life, especially during college.  My parents gave me a typewriter with pica type when I went away to college, but after it was stolen, I bought one of my own, but got the smaller elite type.  (I’ve always preferred the smaller type.)

Now we’ve graduated to computers with their humongous selection of typefaces.  We can have almost any typeface we want, at any size, in bold, light, italics, extended, condensed, color or the regular black, and so on and so forth.  But some ideas about writing and about manuscripts are still rooted in the old typewriter years.

I just submitted a portion of my first science fiction novel to a contest which requested the first 6500 words of each submitter’s novel.  This, they said, should result in approximately the first 27 pages.  But they also requested that the manuscript be written in Times New Roman.  (I’ll abbreviate this as “TNR.”)  Well, my manuscript was written in TNR, so that was no problem.  I always write in manuscript format: 1-inch margins, 12-point font, TNR, page numbers in the upper right-hand corner, and so forth.  But in my case, the first 6500 words came to only 22 pages.  Why the discrepancy?

This comes from the fact that the people running the contest are using the old pica relation between words and pages.  Back when manuscripts were typed using pica type, (and this is especially true of manual typewriters) the maximum number of words per page came out to only around 250.  Now, though, if you prepare a manuscript in TNR, the maximum number of words per page comes out at around 320.  At least in my experience.  In this situation, 6500 words will require 20 to 22 pages.  Exactly what I had.

The difference comes from the fact that TNR is a very condensed font.  The letters tend to be set very close together, much more so than a typewriter font.  (It is possible to change the spacing of letters in TNR and most other fonts, but I strongly recommend leaving it at minimum, just for consistency’s sake.)  TNR is also a proportional font, where each letter is given only the space needed to print it.  For example, the lower case “i” takes up much less space than “m.”  Typewriters, on the other hand, use non-proportional fonts, and all letters have the same spacing.  All of this adds up to the fact that on any given page of a manuscript, TNR will allow you to put more words on a page.

If you want to see what your TNR manuscript looks like as though it were typed, change the font to Courier, which is a non-proportional font, and it will result in a page that looks very much like the old pica type.  You will get only about 250 words per page, the old standard.

Ergo, if you are requesting manuscripts and want them in TNR, keep in mind that the resulting submissions will have about 300 to 320 words per page.  I think it’s time we switched over to the new standard of TNR at 320 words/page.

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