Is it ethical to use a larger font to make a paper longer?

I have never been overly verbose and even in high school, whenever a paper had a minimum page requirement, I was always counting down and rearranging words to make it reach the minimum.

So now, when I have an 8-10 paper due in grad school, I have begun to wonder, is it ethical to use a larger font to make a paper longer?

At Times New Roman (12 Point), the paper comes out to 8 full pages. But in Arial (12 Points), it reaches to 8 and a half pages.

A part of me looks at this as not right, while another part of me doesn’t see the big deal as Times New Roman and Arial are both pretty standard fonts.

So what says the SDMB?

If the teacher hasn’t specified a standard, there is no problem using 10-12 point standard font. Tell the part of you that worries about something like this to shove off.

Why not? You might tinker with the margins, too, while you’re at it. Stick it to “The Man.”

I’d stay away from wingdings though.

All the papers I’ve had to write since high school (not many) have specified a word limit, font and font size.

As for changing font to change the length, if they specify a page length and you meet that, I don’t think it’s unethical to use any font you’d like.

You’re crazy to think that this is an ethical question. It’s about as much of a question as “Should a cornerback let the receiver catch the ball?” It’s you against the requirements. If it’s not against the rules, it’s legal. Also, I’m wondering why you think Arial isn’t the default font anyway. Perhaps using Times New Roman is “unethical” to those trying to trim down their papers.

I’ve had a number of teachers who could pick out those tactics and would penalize students for trying them.

However, all of them have always said that, provided it meets the minimum, a shorter, well-written paper will always score better than a longer, fluffed paper.

Courrier (or some other fixed-width font) would probably bump the paper up to 11, just so you know.

As for the ethical question, consider the following: A teacher who assigns a required page number instead of a required word count, and who doesn’t specify anything about the font or margins, probably doesn’t have a great deal of experience with computers. The expectations for those page counts were probably calibrated back in the typewriter days, and haven’t changed since, and on most typewriters, you didn’t have any choice but to use Courier. In other words, if you convert the font in your paper to Courier (hence adding about three pages), you’re probably giving your teacher exactly what he or she expects. If the teacher asks for 8-10 pages, and you turn in 9 pages of Ariel, you’re probably actually doing significantly more than expected.


When i set papers for undergraduates, i give them a page count, but i also specify an approximate word count. I ask them to submit their papers double spaced, with wide right-hand margins (for my comments). I also note that, using Times New Roman at 12 points, they should get about 250-280 words per page. The assignment sheet might say something like:

Length: 8 pages, or about 2000-2400 words.

For me, word counts and page lengths have never been rigid prescriptions. They are general guidelines, and if i ask for an 8-page paper, then a page either way is not a big deal. The quality is more important than the quantity, and i’ve had some students who could submit an outstanding paper in fewer words than required, and other who couldn’t find an argument if i gave them 50 pages to do it.

Obviously, the shorter the paper, the more problematic it is for the paper to be too short. If i ask for three pages, and someone gives me one and a half, chances are pretty good that they haven’t been able to answer the question properly. But if i set a 12-page paper, and someone submits a 10 page essay, then it might be good enough that the shorter length is irrelevant.

I’ve had students submit papers in 14 point font, with massive margins, in a clear effort to stretch their papers out to the required page length. The thing is, those students usually also write bad papers. If you’re in college and you can’t put together a 6 or 8 page paper, it’s probably because you haven’t done enough work, or you don’t know your stuff. At least, that’s the case in my discipline, history.

You think whoever’s going to grade this paper won’t be able to tell it’s padded? Think again. (Unless by some chance you get a first-year TA and it’s the first paper said person has ever marked.)

You don’t get to the point of being a first-year TA without having written your share of papers. Anyone grading a paper can tell if it’s been stretched out with font size etc. I suspect most graders are going to be like mhendo and not overly care about length except insofar as it’s so short as to be lacking in content. However, I’m equally sure that somewhere there’s a grader who is anal about paper length and will knock grades off for padding length. If you’re concerned, speak with the person who will be marking the paper.

This is also good advice.

Your professors are not automatons (well, for the most part) who have no flexibility and no leeway to give. Some teachers are sticklers for length, while others don’t care very much.

When i was an undergrad, i had a professor who set paper length in words, and would not accept any paper that was more than 10% under or 10% over the limit. I had another professor who really didn’t care very much, as long as you answered the question and didn’t just ramble on for pages and pages.

You can replace all your size 12 periods with size 14 ones in Word 2007. Adds about 3 extra lines per page and is almost unnoticeable unless they can get it into Word and select all to check the font size. If you were wondering.

Might not be noticeable visually (though I really don’t understand how larger periods will add three lines per page), but trust me - if a paper is low on actual content the grader will know. The grader reads the paper, gets to the end, and says, “Huh. Is that all?” and then goes back and looks at it with an eye for how much has actually been written. At least, that was generally my reaction. I never cared very much about length per se, just about there being enough substantive content, but if the paper is short in terms of number of words it’s readily apparent.

I think it puts a larger space after the period. So if a 12 pt period requires X empty space after it then a 14 pt period requires X+a teeny bit of empty space. The extra empty space adds up and eventually words get bumped down a line. I realize that it doesn’t add any info, but if you merely want to make a paper look longer, you can mess with the size of the punctuation. I never do it because I seem to always have to trim my papers down anyway. (I have a habit of parentheticals.)

What a dumb question.
Seriously, if the requirement’s there because the prescribed length is necessary to develop an adequate argument, who’s kidding whom?

Pretty much what everyone else is saying. I have taught at the university level for ca. 10 years, and I can easily spot a paper that has been massaged to lengthen it. (Wait, that doesn’t sound right. You know what I mean.) And most profs. grade on content more than length, anyhow, so you’re not getting away with anything–I have often given a high grade to a paper that was shy of the recommended page range because the paper succinctly made a strong argument. And I have trashed a lot of long papers.

I had a professor who was in his mid-80s when I took his classes (based on him telling me about leaving in the middle of grad school to fight in WWII) whose eyes were going. He would request papers by word count and then ask that we make them at least a 14 point font. I’d get people giving me funny looks in the computer lab while I was printing these things out. I’m sure they thought I was an idiot about to get smacked down by a grader.

I probably should have explained this part. I think Arial is ugly as sin and would never purposely choose it to write a paper in. I’d do it solely because of the almost full page bump it give to the text.

See, that’s the thing though. Using one font, the paper is exactly eight full pages. But using another, it is eight pages and 3/4s of another. I’ve hit the prescribed length (barely), but I feel funny about leaving it at the exact minimum length.

The “exact minimum length” is most likely an arbitrary measure. Well, not quite arbitrary. But while there are reasons that the professor selected 8-10 pages rather than 7-9 or 7-11, I doubt that a well-written paper will be graded differently because of which font you use or other formatting tricks.

Mostly though, there are reasons why your intructor chose 8-10 over 3-4 or 20 pages.

So, overall, count me in the camp which thinks that using formatting tricks to mislead your instructor about the length of your paper is not really ethical, but the biggest reason you shouldn’t do it is that it is unlikely to be EFFECTIVE. Either your paper is long enough and well-enough written that being shorter than the recommended pages is not a problem, or it isn’t and all the formatting tricks in the world won’t make it seem like it.

Do you have any idea of how much better (and longer) a paper you could have written if you’d spent half the time you have posting about this, and agonizing over it, simply expanding on some idea that needed a little more development? Trust me, there are concepts you could have explained usefully for a sentence or two. And if you’ve explained everything as succinctly as you could have, then you’ll score extra points for excellent writing, far beyond “Hey, he wrote a half a page beyond the drop-dead minimum, too!” would get you.