You couldn’t make it up

A warning came round on the departmental email list that “NERC recently started to office reject grant applications containing incorrect font sizes”. It seems that their regulations state:

Principal Investigators should ensure that all proposal contributors are aware of and meet the submission regulations set out in the NERC handbook e.g. attachments should be of the correct length, font size etc. Please see paragraph 171. of the NERC grants handbook for detailed regulations. Proposals not adhering to the rules will be automatically rejected and will not be returned to applicants for corrections.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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12 Responses to You couldn’t make it up

  1. Presumably the reason is the same reason that margins are fixed – to prevent people from engaging in an arms race whereby applications become of almost unbounded length. There are plenty of stupid things being done by bureaucrats but I don’t see this as being completely unreasonable.

  2. Yemon Choi says:

    Have they prescribed actual fonts, as in Arial, Times New Roman, etc? (With Computer Modern not on the “whitelist” perhaps…)

    • Yes. This is what they say:
      “All attachments, with the exception of letters of support and services/facilities/equipment quotes, should be in Arial 11 or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11. [sic] submitted through the JeS system must be completed in single-spaced typescript of minimum font size 11 point (Arial or other sans serif typeface of equivalent size to Arial 11), with margins of at least 2cm. Please note that Arial narrow and Calibri are not allowable font types and any proposal which has used either of these font types within their submission will be rejected. References and footnotes should also be at least 11 point font and should be in the same font type as the rest of the document.”
      I think this effectively answers the previous comment from Mark as well. Why Arial? And what is wrong with a wordcount or character count?

      I would naively have expected that NERC would favour a small font size to save paper and protect the environment they are committed to studying!

  3. Robin Chapman says:

    Of course Arial is a M$ font. NERC are acting as unpaid lackeys of Microsoft
    (as most university administrators are too) in enforcing compliance to
    M$ WORD.

  4. Peter says:

    In all honesty I don’t think this is that unreasonable. They say ‘or equivalent’, so you can happily just use a standard tex font (now, if this is disallowed it is unreasonable, but surely one can just ask). I’ve seen enough proposals where someone was trying to push the length constraints – and it’s not just the ten per cent extra for the referee to read (which is mildly annoying), it’s more the trying to read something made ugly and hard to read / print by (for example) setting the bottom margin to 1mm because the guidelines forgot to specify it, or dropping the line spacing to the point where L and g on separate lines touch, or using an unpleasantly dense font (like, say, Arial narrow), or observing that the standard footnote is smaller than body text and pushing half the proposal text into footnotes to gain length. I agree having footnotes in the same size as the rest of the text is ugly, but the solution is not to use footnotes. If you want it read, write it in the main text, if you don’t want it read don’t write it; the reader doesn’t want to have to jump back and forth on the page to understand.

    The problem with a word constraint is you don’t want to count by hand, but you also don’t want the author to Germanicise their text by running words together (non-trivially-possible in English) or simply to replace some spaces with font colour white ‘a’s which look like spaces but fool the automated word count, or to decide that each equation is a word and put far too much technical detail because it `saves space’. Plus, it’s a pain to word count a tex document for the author. And a character constraint is even worse – for both parties. Is the digraph fi one character or two, for example? PDFs from latex have significantly less ‘characters’ than the source plain text precisely because the pretty one-character digraphs are put in quite a bit, on the other hand you certainly don’t want to count the entire mark-up in the source as characters. And what about graphs? This just guarantees arguments about whether it was correct to reject the proposal.

    I know that whatever you do, someone will find a way to cheat: but this seems to me to be one of the less painful ways. Put it another way, you would surely be more unhappy if the message was that NERC would office-reject any proposal with more than 25,000 characters, because that would really make life difficult writing it, and you’d be left guessing what exactly ‘a character’ is.

    As to protecting the environment, a page more or less don’t really make a difference – persuading referees to read on screen maybe does.

    • Yemon Choi says:

      Standard TeX fonts might *not* be equivalent to e.g. Arial or TNR. Computer Modern is definitely wider than TNR; and I think it has more generous spacing than Arial although I could be mistaken.

      In any case, surely it is better to give examples of what to rule out rather than assume everyone writes on a machine that has Arial, or indeed writes in some version of MS Word

      • Yemon Choi says:

        Oops, sorry, just saw that they do indeed give examples of forbidden fonts such as Arial Narrow. Well, I still think that they should make allowances for e.g. TeX’s standard font set

      • Dima says:

        one can use Arial (or something visually indistinguishable from it) in LaTeX, if needed.

  5. I wonder what the definition of equivalence for fonts is…

    • Dima says:

      Well, it must be induced by isometries of font metric spaces, I presume… We should get a grant from them to study these in greater detail…

  6. Yiftach says:

    As someone who in the last few years their arms became too short to read I find keeping the size of fonts big a good thing.

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