Typography for writing focus and reading flow

Typography affects writing as much as it affects reading.  Yet paradoxically, the fonts that help me to write are not always those that are best for reading. For example, for email, I have recently discovered Avenir which practically forces composing short and clean email messages:

Re__The_text_I_wrote_on_nuclear_energy._—_MESPOM__All_Mail_-7

In Ulysses I use another Sans Serif Menlo Regular (their default) with the same purpose: to focus attention on every sentence, word and letter

iCloud_▸_IEM_and_IEE_13-14

When compiled, Ulysses texts will be rendered in Serif and produce reading flow rather than writing focus.

I have my favorite fonts for ByWord (Cochin, their default) and for Scrivener (used to be Optima although now trying Avenir). Still, when compiling I am using the five typography essentials which mean Serif (e.g. Baskerville) for main text and Sans Serif (e.g. Helvetica) for headings.

This is the joy of working in plain text - you do not need to worry about right typography when composing. Use the font that helps your writing and think about compiling for readability later.

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About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He also coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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5 Responses to Typography for writing focus and reading flow

  1. From the list of text editors, I figure you must be jumping programs quite often. I wonder how the Ulysses “One app for all your text” fits into this… There must be a lot of copy and pasting going on… Just wondering, since I liked the writing environment of Ulysses (simple, yet sophisticated, and great export capabilities) but did not like hunting for specific texts in the app (and these build up quickly). Scrivener seems to be another app which takes a completely different approach.
    I wonder how you use all this in conjunction…

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    • Aleh Cherp says:

      Well, in short there is some copying and pasting involved. Of course it’s a cost, but the benefits of writing flow are higher for me. My theory is that different types of writing require different types of thinking, different discipline and thus may need different software. I do not believe in “one app for all your text” be it MS Word, Scrivener or Ulysses. For me, Ulysses holds memos, journal reviews and other “project” documents which can be hierarchically organized. NValt is for keeping short random snippets of information and ideas. When I do ‘creative’ writing (articles, essays), I usually start in distraction-free ByWord and then migrate (copy-paste) to Scrivener. Scrivener and Ulysses offer some automatic “synchronization” options where your text files in a certain directory are just shown in these apps, but I never found these worth the hassle. So my longer writing projects (articles, talk and lecture scripts) are in Scrivener. At the very end of writing I compile into Pages or direct to pdf (e.g. for memos) or into MS Word (usually for articles or documents which require a lot of collaboration). My “source” texts remain as plain text files so that I can re-use them for other projects.

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      • Jessica Jewell says:

        Aleh do you have a good way to deal with citations in Ulysses? I often want to write something in Ulysses which requires citations but I haven’t found a good workflow to get the text out of Ulysses and then be able to scan the document.

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  2. Csaba Pusztai says:

    I am happy I am not the only person who cares about typeface during writing (and not as meant for final output). I always use monospace fonts for writing. Courier is of course a classic (considered ugly by most people ;) ) and I like Latin Modern Mono Light as well.

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