Street Sign Styles


All capital letters is almost always a bad choice. This style not only takes by far the most space -- an important consideration on street signs -- but also is harder to read. (The differences between letters are less distinct in upper than in lower case.) The use of only capital letters is an impediment to quick and accurate reading.


NanJing E. Rd. Sec. 4

This style is part of a fad with origins in DOS-style file names. This is not an improvement on the normal style of writing used in five hundred years of the printed word; it is, as I said before, a fad. And fads become dated and look foolish. Don't use this.


Nanjing E. Rd. Sec. 4

Clean, simple, easy to read. A clear improvement over the previous two. Note, also, how it takes considerably less horizontal space than the all-caps example, and a little less than the second example.


Yes, of course I know that jing is first tone, not fourth. But the mark for first tone is often omitted (as I think it definitely should be on street signs), and I wanted to show Nanjing with two marks. On maps and in magazines and books, using tone marks is certainly the best choice, because tones are an essential component of Chinese. Street signs, however, usually need to be read a single, quick glance. I fear that tone marks could lessen legibility. This is something that deserves further study.