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Techniques for reading online material: How to control the type

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  • All common web browsers have the same command: Ctrl + (Cmd + on a Mac). If you don’t have a numeric keyboard with a dedicated + key you need to do Shift Ctrl = (Shift Cmd = on a Mac) to type the plus sign.
  • Press this combination repeatedly to increase the size of the type in successive increments.
  • If you go too far and want to reduce, hit Ctrl - (Cmd - on a Mac). This can either be the minus key on the numeric keyboard or the hyphen key.
  • Press repeatedly until you’re back to the optimum. These same commands usually work in your email program as well and can be useful if you have to read long epistles.

You can change the type size for all web pages that you open by adjusting the default settings in your browser. This is easier in some browsers than others as described below. You change the size of the type when the page loads but you can still use the modifiers above to make it larger still or to dial the size back.

While you’re changing the settings for fonts you could experiment with the fonts used by default. Some websites specify which font your browser should use; others simply allow the browser to use its defaults. Many people have those defaults set to Times New Roman and Arial. It’s well worth experimenting with other types. Try replacing Times with Cambria and Arial with Calibri. These are more modern fonts specifically designed to be read on screen, not the digital offspring of analogue originals. If you don’t have these new fonts available, try Georgia and Helvetica Neue.

Google Chrome

Icon for Chrome

Go to the tools menu (top right, with an icon made up of three horizontal lines) and select Settings. At the bottom of the page click on the link for Show advanced settings. Scroll down until you come to the Web content section where you can change the default font size to anything between ‘Very small’ and ‘Very large’. You can also change the fonts there, though Google selects Calibri and Cambria by default. One useful feature of Chrome is that it remembers your type size adjustment by site. So if you visit a page and crank up the type size it will apply the same settings when you return.

Internet Explorer

Icon for Internet Explorer Icon for IE 11 on Windows 8.1 via the Start screen

IE offers similar controls to other browsers but under some circumstances they’re hidden. You need access to the menu bar which looks like this:

IE menu bar

If you can’t see this you should right click on the empty space around the address bar and select Menu bar. You can then select View and then Text size. This allows you to change the default font size to anything between ‘Very small’ and ‘Very large’.

If you’re using IE11 in “Windows 8 Mode” (ie with the dark background and the flat icon) you don’t appear to be able to change the default setting. If you click on the spanner icon at bottom right, scroll down to the bottom of the window that pops out of the right hand side of the screen and select Fonts and Encoding you can select the default font, but not its size. If you change it in the desktop version of IE11 your choice is not reflected in the Windows 8 version. You can zoom in using Cmd + and out using Cmd -, but that’s all. The good news is that you can control the type size in Reading View (see below) but not all pages work in that mode.


Icon for Firefox

Open the tools menu (top right, with an icon made up of three horizontal lines) and select Options. Click on the Content tab and you have the opportunity to change the default font and size. Calibri at 18 pixels gives a larger type for reading, but if you push it too far you’ll have effects on page layout for your normal browsing. If you click on the Advanced button you get even finer control over fonts. Try Proportional: Sans Serif; Serif: Cambria; Sans Serif: Calibri; Monospace: Courier New. If you don’t like the effect you can change it back.


Icon for Safari

Safari offers no controls over fonts, instead relying on the web site to determine the type that should be used (which in fairness is the majority these days). The Cmd + and Cmd – work for type size and there is a setting in Safari > Preferences > Advanced that lets you set a minimum size of font. The only way to change the default font is to use a CSS file and make that the default style sheet, again in Safari > Preferences > Advanced.

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