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Submitted on
April 7, 2013
Submitted with Writer


5,863 (5 today)
52 (who?)

Stop Using Subscript in Your Lit

Sun Apr 7, 2013, 12:37 AM
Or, Why Tiny Text Is Bad.

(FACT: It's not just because some of us have crappy vision.)

I know some of you like the effect, but here's the deal: do whatever you want on your own monitor and keep your hands off mine.

Did you know that, in Windows, holding Ctrl and moving the scroll wheel up or down changes font size?  You do now, and it's not much harder to change zoom size on a Mac (I hear it is most likely cmd++ or cmd+- , cmd+0 reverts it to the original size). I know it's just as easy in Linux, anyway.

I already have my browser's text size display set to what I want, thank you very much.

Anyone who uses Word must be familiar with the concept of font size in points: 12pt Times New Roman, especially, when it comes to turning in essays for teachers. (And 13pt periods for those of you who couldn't hit that minimum page count :lol:)

Well, here's the deal: Web display doesn't work quite the same way. You can force all text to be 16pt (which is pretty big) on your own website, but in general the standard is based around em, where 1em is the default size for whatever font you're using. I mention this because it's kind of a nice conceptual thing: smart web designers use em to determine sizes for things like header text, etc. The user is still the person in charge, as far as their browser goes.

1em is not a fixed value.

In my browser, 1em is probably 12pts. In yours, it might be something different (although I do mostly use the default setting, so there's a good chance it's the same).

Here's the thing: my screen is a 27" monitor with a resolution of 1920px (width) by 1080px (height).

To illustrate my point, I took the values from this approximate conversion and then plugged in the size of my monitor. For me, a single 12pt letter is something like 0.208" or 5.29mm wide.

If I had a larger monitor (someday...) or a lower resolution, it'd be bigger; if I had a smaller monitor or a higher resolution (which is currently impossible, except maybe on some Apple products), it'd be even smaller. For the record, 27" is bigger than the average desktop screen these days. People are more likely to have a 24" monitor at the same resolution, and that means smaller text.

And keep in mind that a 27" light source isn't exactly something you want shoved right into your face, so in addition to this small size, I'm sitting a foot away from the screen.

So that's the math on 12pt, which is the default size. Okay.

But sub/superscript is ~0.75em!

Using the same handy guide and this time assuming 9pts (actual size may be a bit less), I come up with 0.117" or 2.98mm.

Do you really think anyone will take an interest in reading something that is barely more than half the size of normal text? I mean, small quantities yes, or if I already think what you're going to say is worth reading, sure. But this principle doesn't apply to even a 500-word vignette, as far as submitted lit goes.

Also, a wonderful quote from pica-ae:

Super- and subscript have a purpose, and it's NOT to write whole paragraphs in them. 

The only reason I don't automatically delete all works like this is because I've made a fix for literature deviations. But please think about what this means, especially since it doesn't readjust line height, which leaves anything put through it looking like a high school essay back when teachers used to insist on double-spacing.

  • Your design choices are effectively worthless. Yeah, I went there. If this were a website, it'd be a slap on the wrist to the designer: I don't like what you want me to see, so I'm overriding it. (In reality, I skip the site.) It has the classiness level of taunts in the schoolyard, but with the added bonus of saving money on new glasses and headache pills.
  • If you think teeny text somehow changes the meaning of your words, making it full-size has got to be embarrassing. If the only reason your text has emotional value is because it's too small for people to read it clearly, here's a friendly protip: THE PROBLEM ISN'T THE FONT SIZE. (I thought about reiterating that in subscript to see if it would click better, but fuck it.)
  • Forum posts? You're kidding, right? Yeah, no, I'll bother if it seems like you're saying something interesting. I didn't make a fix for those because it'd be a bitch, and also because any ignoring of your opinion due to the way you've presented it is your own fault. You're okay with taking the responsibility for that, right? Good.

So anyway. I would like to say that as far as font size goes, you're still free to do whatever the hell you want—no need to listen to some cranky old lady with a big hulking monitor. I'm trying to say this, believe me, but it's about as easy as waving my hands and telling people that it's okay to have yellow text on a white background. It is bad design. You are making a bad design decision.

I hope the explanation of what monitor size and screen resolution can do to tiny text helped, for those of you who honestly don't realize how godsawful it is otherwise. Believe me, bitty text doesn't look so bad on my 11" netbook. But I also have adjusted my web browsers to display fonts at the sizes I prefer, and you thinking you know what I want to see better than me isn't going to fly.

So before you dump your whole thing in nonsensically small text, ask yourself one thing.

Am I doing this for myself or for my audience?

Counteropinions are always welcome, but if they're too small to read, I'm not bothering.

Now you know.

    Skin by Nobody
    I got around to checking what stuff is actually set to for me and here's what I learned:
    :bulletpink: My browser defaults to size 16. Actually this looks about the same as size 12 in Word at 100% zoom.
    :bulletpink: A lot of websites will overwrite with 12pt font and that's manageable. (Although silly. .95em is a better choice.)
    :bulletpink: On my computer, subscript is size 9.

    For people who care enough to read tiny text, you can limit minimum font size in Firefox and Chrome (Firefox it's in Advanced options next to the default font/size settings).

    That said, it isn't anyone's job to fix things because of *your* choices. Set your damn browser defaults.

    Huuuge thanks to ^pica-ae, who works in the industry so listen to her, for reading this over for me and also adding in the shortcuts for Mac (I asked her to check my facts back when I wrote this in January...okay, I kind of suck). Hope you don't mind me using that quote ;p (Also all the GIFs are from her Tumblr.)

    This applies to a lesser extent for forum posts, but really this is something you all should be thinking about. A lot of you guys are oddly hell bent on self publishing and 90% of that is you think people will go to your website if they can't read it?
    Add a Comment:
    SurrealCachinnation Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2014   Writer
    I had read this before--or opened it meaning to read it and never got around to it and it went away when my useless computer reset itself--and somebody just linked to it on a post I was reading.  And all I can say is "THANK YOU."

    Sometimes I use it for effect, mostly when I'm being silly.  Never in lit, though.  I used to screw around with visuals in my poetry, but one day I woke up and decided it was more annoying than useful and I stopped.  :P

    This is an example of being silly.
    neurotype Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
    Darn, I didn't get any kind of notification for it o: Weeeird.

    Ha yeah, if you look closely my entire signature - including the link to this - is in subscript, and it's not like I literally never use it. Just not on anything tha tpeople are supposed to be reading.
    SurrealCachinnation Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2014   Writer
    I think they linked to it--they may not have mentioned your username or the article itself, in which case it wouldn't tag.  It was on someone's poll asking why people get riled up about using small text.

    So... we're not supposed to read your signature?  :giggle:
    neurotype Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
    Ohh it's because it was on a poll, linking would notify me otherwise.

    Only if you want :eyes:
    SurrealCachinnation Featured By Owner Sep 19, 2014   Writer
    Gotcha.  :D
    dragoeniex Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2014
    You've probably noticed, but I like the subscript for things like those fake warnings in the Neuro Cake ad. :P But the fact that people are often tempted to skip small text was the whole point. The corporation doesn't want to scare you away from the delicious product. It'll just sneak the warnings in where it has to. 

    On the whole, I don't like it when works have a high percentage of subscript. ^^; And even a small percentage has to feel justified. 
    neurotype Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
    Yeah, if you look closely my entire signature is in subscript :P If it's meant to be less obtrusive, great. If it's how the crux of your argument is presented, no.
    VanuInfiltrator Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
    Sorry, couldn't resist lol
    VanuInfiltrator Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
    I know right? So annoying!
    Jahpan Featured By Owner Jun 4, 2014  Student Digital Artist
    haha i love that this all has game of throne gifs  :lol: :la:
    Add a Comment: