Business Proposal Layout – Choosing the Right Fonts

Business Proposal Layout - Fonts

As important as any element in your business proposal layout is the selection of the right fonts for your business proposals.

Typefaces & Typography

Although the two words ‘typeface’ and ‘font’ do not mean precisely the same thing you will frequently see the terms used interchangeably. For our purposes, when talking business proposal layout, any time I use the word ‘typeface’ or ‘font’ I will be referring to the choice of typeface.

As there are literally tens of thousands of typefaces already in existence you do not have to become a typography expert to create readable proposals. However, you do need to understand one or two key principles in order to be able to make the best decisions when it comes to selecting the fonts you will use in your proposal.

Typefaces & First Impressions

The typeface you select conveys a very strong message to your reader as to how you regard your content and really forms the foundation of a successful business proposal layout. When it comes to proposal evaluation your readers will ‘read’ the subliminal messages that your fonts send about your attitude to the content just as surely as they’ll read what you actually write.

Look at the typefaces below – in this example all are used to present the same message, but the typeface ensures that there is some considerable variation in the way that message is conveyed:

Business Proposal - The Impact of Font Selection

Figure 1: The Impact of Font Selection

The first two typefaces presented above (Times New Roman and Arial) are very widely available, tend to be standard inclusions in pretty much every word processing program, and are classic business typefaces.

The last three suggest varying degrees of informality, and even fun, and would be appropriate in many social or personal situations – but almost never in proposals (unless, that is, fun and informality is a key part of your message).

As the majority that most of us will write in proposals is likely to be serious, and is likely to be presented in a somewhat formal manner – then the fonts you select for your business proposal layout are critical and your choices will either support an appropriately serious tone or defy it.

Take no risks in your font selection. Always err on the side of being conservative and, if you are in doubt about a font, do not use it.

If you are without any other options the two classics above are always perfectly acceptable and will convey the sort of impression you are striving for.

Serif & Sans Serif Typefaces

All typefaces can be split into two main classes – ‘Serif’ and ‘San Serif’.

Serif typefaces tend to have small ‘feet’ at the base of letters like ‘T’ and ‘l’, and to have ‘curly parts’ at the top and bottom of other characters like the ‘y’ and ‘j’ (look at the Times New Roman sample above).

Sans Serif typefaces have no such ornamentation – look at the ‘Arial’ sample above.

When to use Serif vs. Sans Serif

For printed documents like proposals readers find Serif fonts easier to read – the additional features on each character make them a little easier to recognise and read. So, Serif fonts are recommended for the body text of your written documents.

Sans Serif typefaces make excellently clear and legible headings and are strongly recommended any time you want to make any element of your proposal stand out from the body text – title pages, headings, captions, headers and footers, etc. Their differing lines will stand out from your Serif body text.

If you spend much time on the internet you will likely observe that much of the body text in web-based documents is presented in San Serif fonts. This practise has emerged because the resolution on many screens is much lower than in print – so the additional ornamentation on Serif fonts can often be ‘fuzzy’, and can therefore sometimes interfere with legibility.

However you present your documents online do not be tempted to abandon Serif typefaces in your business proposal layout – they will always enhance readability and convey a slightly more formal air.

Business Proposals - Cover Page with Serif & San Serif Combination
Figure 2: Cover Page – Serif / San Serif Combination

In the cover page presented in Figure 1 the title and sub-title are in a ‘Calibri’ (Sans Serif) and the address information is in ‘Constantia’ (Serif). The overall effect is one of formal and serious clarity, quality and legibility.

Mixing Typefaces & Colour

Your requirements for most proposals will be perfectly well met by a combination of a single Sans Serif font for titles etc and a Serif font for body text. Unless there is a compelling reason to do so you should avoid introducing any more typefaces into your proposal and, in any situation, 3-4 is the absolute maximum you should mix in any document. Any more and your proposal could begin to look more like a ransom note!

Colour can be extremely useful in establishing relationships between headings and in introducing a more attractive and ‘designed’ feel to your proposal. However, the advice for use of colour in your business proposal layout is similar to that for mixing fonts: use these combinations carefully – do not confuse your reader with too many colours in headings.

In Figure 2 the use of blue for the main title and grey for the sub-title serves well in drawing the reader’s eye through the elements on the page in the order you would want them to read them.

Introducing even one more colour into such a proposal could make the overall effect garish and confusing. Use coloured headings sensibly.

The choice of fonts should be made early in the business proposal layout process – and should be made with care. Get it right and you set your business proposals up for success.

Go to Step 9 of the Business Proposal Course: ‘Design a Compelling Layout for Your Proposal’

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