Use Ragged Right or Full Justification Appropriately

Rules of Desktop Publishing for Text Alignment

If someone insists that fully justified text is better than left-aligned text, tell them they are wrong. If someone else tells you that left-aligned text is better than justified text, tell them they are wrong.

If they are both wrong, then what's right? Alignment is only a small piece of the puzzle. What works for one design might be inappropriate for another layout. As with all layouts, it depends on the purpose of the piece, the audience and its expectations, the fonts, the margins, and white space, and other elements on the page. The most appropriate choice is the alignment that works for that particular design.

About Fully-Justified Text

  • Often considered more formal, less friendly than left-aligned text.
  • Usually allows for more characters per line, packing more into the same amount of space (than the same text set left-aligned).
  • May require extra attention to word and character spacing and hyphenation to avoid unsightly rivers of white space running through the text.
  • Maybe more familiar to readers in some types of publications, such as books and newspapers.
  • Some people are naturally drawn to the "neatness" of text that lines up perfectly on the left and right.

Traditionally many books, newsletters, and newspapers use full-justification as a means of packing as much information onto the page as possible to cut down on the number of pages needed. While the alignment was chosen out of necessity, it has become so familiar to us that those same types of publications set in a left-aligned text would look odd, even unpleasant.

Vintage newspaper

You may find that fully-justified text is a necessity either due to space constraints or expectations of the audience. If possible though, try to break up dense blocks of texts with ample subheadings, margins, or graphics.

About Left-Aligned Text

  • Often considered more informal, friendlier than justified text.
  • The ragged right edge adds an element of white space.
  • May require extra attention to hyphenation to keep right margin from being too ragged.
  • Generally, typeset left-aligned is easier to work with (i.e., requires less time, attention, and tweaking from the designer to make it look good).

The four examples (based on actual published materials) in the supporting illustrations for text alignment demonstrate the use of alignment.

No matter what alignment you use, remember to pay close attention to hyphenation and word/character spacing as well to ensure that your text is as readable as possible.

There will undoubtedly be well-meaning friends, business associates, clients, and others who will question your choices. Be prepared to explain why you chose the alignment you did and be prepared to change it (and make necessary adjustments to keep it looking good) if the person with final approval still insists on something different.

The bottom line is there is no right or wrong way to align text. Use the alignment that makes the most sense for the design and that effectively communicates your message.

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