I need to write an outline of my research for a grant. The orginization I am applying to, NSERC asks for:

"Body text in a minimum 12 pt Times New Roman font"

Well here's a little problem, I don't own Windows and getting my hands on an MS product to write the proposal irks me a bit. I also don't like the idea that people's taxes are being used to promote a proprietary font. NSERC should ask for an open font, such as Liberation Serif.

In short, can I use another font or must I really use a microsoft product to type this proposal?

As a general answer to those thinking this is silly/non-important. The font times new roman is a proprietary font, meaning it requires quite a bit of effort to access it on systems that have don;t have a license for it (I am in such a system, so this is already affecting me).

But moreover, this is a public grant. This is effectively pushing people towards using proprietary software for research (or in this case to apply for research grants) and that is not ok when there are perfectly valid free fonts that achieve the same result.

NSERC does NOT give away free money, NSERC collects funds from taxes and reinverts them into research. It is not ok for a public organization to favour proprietary tools when free tools that achieve the exact same purpose exist. It literally disenfranchizes individuals.

Imagine if instead of a proprietary font, the grant process demanded that you submite a docx file or another, similar, proprietary file format. This would essentially be NSERC promoting MS software which would be, by definition, a corruption of academic incentives. This matters, it is not the most important issue in the world, but it matters.

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    Times New Roman is not owned by Microsoft and is available on MacOS and probably other non-Microsoft software. Also, expecting that your government only use your tax money in ways that you approve of is a tad unrealistic (especially when you have chosen this bizarre issue as the hill to die on).
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 8 '21 at 7:36
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    Anyway, you can use whatever font you like… and NSERC can shower free money on whomever it, in turn, likes. Presumably they will choose from the many applicants who don’t disqualify themselves right away by blatantly ignoring the grant writing guide’s instructions.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 8 '21 at 7:38
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    Anyway #2: if your computer truly does not have access to Times New Roman, you can always email the grant program director to explain the issue and ask if you can use another font. I’m betting they wouldn’t mind.
    – Dan Romik
    Nov 8 '21 at 7:40
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    This post feels more like a rant than a question meant for genuine feedback. Nov 8 '21 at 17:56
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    My guess is that "Times New Roman" is there only to prevent you from using some horizontally squished (but still 12 pt vertically) font to cheat some page limits (and drive reviewers crazy). Nov 8 '21 at 19:27

Fortunately, there is a free software alternative to Times New Roman that is metrically compatible, available as part of the Liberation Fonts. Using it has the advantage that the letters consume exactly the same amount of space as they would for Times New Roman.

This leaves you two choices to handle the issue:

  • Ask the funding body if they permit you to use this same letter size font. Since the role of the rule is likely to be limiting the size of proposals, this is a reasonable request.
  • Finish your proposal and ask a colleague with a Windows or Mac PC to convert your document to PDF for you after changing the font to Times New Roman. This should not affect the layout of the document.

The second approach has the problem that if your colleague opens your document in a different program (e.g., MS Word instead of LibreOffice), the layout may be modified.

On a related note, if using Microsoft OneDrive is an option for you (e.g., when your point is not about using non-free software at all but really only about the cost of the font), you can write your document with the online version of MS Word there with a free account and select Times New Roman. When you download a copy in PDF, the font is not actually embedded, but the PDF should still work and be shown with that font on computers having it installed.


As has been pointed out by several others, the font is readily available on non-Microsoft products. You aren't the first to face problems with this; luckily plenty of people have come up with solutions.

There is no serious technical difficulty here. On the ethical front, I think Hanlon's razor is helpful here. The organisation most likely chose the simplest instruction that they could come up with which served a large group of people (most people, in their perception). Since it seems to work, they probably saw no reason to update it. They may have a point- a large number of people in my vicinity do think of TNR as a default font. Is it universal, or a clear best choice? Certainly not, and there is no universal choice.

If you want to correct the situation for the greater good, first get the grant (following their requirements) and then write to them. If you want to solve your immediate, individual problem, use one of the proposed workarounds. Doing anything else is unproductive.


This is a good question, because Times New Roman is a propriertary font (albeit free on many operative systems).

This is a bad question, because the only possible answer is "ask NSERC".

However, I am quite sure that if they had time to put such a non-sensical constraint, they will have time to answer questions about the same constraint (I am not sure about their opening to allow for exceptions, though).

Final note: if the requirement is "one page, written at minimum with Times New Roman 12pt" is to avoid people cramping tons of text with a thinner font, it is absolutely idiotic. One (I mean one as NSERC) should just fill a page of text Times New Roman 12pt, count the characters (or the words) and then ask for such a limit.

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    That is not exactly correct. The format also allows for tables and images. So if you used say 2k words with images and tables then it would not be the same as 2k words without images. It’s a strict format ( e.g NSERC DG grants are 5 pages and that’s it) and it is sometimes annoying, but the flexibility of being able to add as many images and tables as you want makes up for it.
    – BlaB
    Nov 9 '21 at 11:07
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    I removed some unkind comments; let us remember our code of conduct. In particular: "Be inclusive and respectful. Avoid sarcasm and be careful with jokes — tone is hard to decipher online....If a situation makes it hard to be friendly, stop participating and move on."
    – cag51
    Nov 11 '21 at 3:47

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