When you select a font in Word, you select its size in a unit called “points.”1

But just like the font size, the font face also affects the visual size of lines and type on the page.

So if you need to space content precisely on a page, you need to recognize that font points aren’t type points.

Font Points Aren’t Type Points

In theory, one point is equal to 1/72 of an inch. (For clarity from here, I’ll call this a “type point.”)

But, by comparison with 12-point Times New Roman text,

  • Twelve-point Arial text occupies noticeably more horizontal space.
  • Twelve-point SBL BibLit text occupies noticeably more vertical space.

So not all fonts are created equal in terms of what a “point” means for a single-spaced line in that particular font.2 (I’ll call this a “font point” since it’s tied to the font size you actually set in Word.)

Font Points and Type Points on a Title Page

A Title Page as an Example

If you use the Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style or something similar, Word can handle title pages quite well.3

So, you can (and should) hand off your title pages to Word so that it can take the formatting and layout minutiae off your plate.

You’ll get a better end product, and you’ll be able to spend time on the content of your research that you would otherwise have devoted to manipulating the layout of your document.

That said, I want to use a title page to illustrate how font and type points do (and don’t) work. And in particular, I’ll assume the title page framework given in the Student Supplement.

Points and Line Spacing

In this framework, if you allow a 2-inch top and bottom margin on 11-inch high paper, that allows you 7 vertical inches on the page in which to distribute content (= 11 inches total – 2 inches for the top margin – 2 inches for the bottom margin).

Line Spacing = “Exactly 12 Points”

If your text is “12-point,” Times New Roman, and spaced at exactly 12 points, you can fit 42 lines of text vertically down these 7 inches, or 504 type points because

  • 504 type points = 7 inches × 72 type points per inch and
  • 42 lines = 504 type points ÷ 12 type points per line.

Line Spacing = “Single Spaced”

But if your text is “12-point,” Times New Roman, and single spaced, you’ll be able to fit vertically down these same 7 inches only about 36.5 lines of text.

This means that, if you use “12-point” Times New Roman font, one “single spaced” line will actually occupy about 13.81 type points of vertical space on your page(= [72 type points per inch × 7 inches] ÷ 36.5 lines).4

Arial appears to take up the same amount. SBL BibLit, by contrast, occupies closer to 18.67 type points vertically on the page when you select a “12-point” font size in Word.

That means one single spaced line of SBL BibLit font occupies slightly more than ⅓ more vertical space on the page than one single-spaced line of Times New Roman or Arial.

Line Spacing down a Full Page

Down a full title page, there will be at least 8 lines of type:

  • Institution block: 1 line
  • Title block: 1 or more lines
  • Class block: 3 lines
  • Author block: 3 lines

So, if you use “12-point” Times New Roman font, you might think these 8 lines would occupy 96 type points vertically on the page (= 8 lines × 12 font-type points per line).

But they won’t. They’ll actually occupy 110.48 type points (= 8 lines × 13.81 type points per line).

Over the page as a whole, the total difference of 14.48 type points (= 110.48 type points – 96 type points) equates to about two tenths of an inch (= 14.48 type points difference ÷ 72 type points per inch). That assumes you’re using Times New Roman or Arial.

If you use SBL BibLit, the difference is greater. Eight lines of single-spaced type will be about 149.36 type points (= 8 lines × 18.67 type points per line).

That’s just shy of three quarters of an inch longer on the page than if the lines were spaced at exactly 12 type points (= [149.36 type points – 96 type points] ÷ 72 type points per inch).

Conclusion

Whenever you need a precise page layout, first see whether Word will handle the details automatically. It probably will.

But if not, understanding the difference between font and type points should help you achieve that layout much more easily.


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  1. Header image provided by Etienne Girardet

  2. For some introductions to why this is, see “Leading,” weblog, The Four-Eyed Raven, n.d.; Matt Samberg, “Line Spacing, Explained,” weblog, Medium, 15 September 2015. 

  3. Melanie Greer Nogalski et al., Student Supplement for The SBL Handbook of Style, Second Edition, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Brennan W. Breed, rev. ed. (Atlanta: SBL, 2015). 

  4. Leading.” Based on my own measurements, this seems to be slightly more accurate than the round 14 points reported by Samberg, “Line Spacing, Explained.” But Samberg’s essay still has a great deal of valuable information. 

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