October 25, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Justify Text

“Justified text makes me cringe in my heart when I am typing and the text is swimming around stupidly.”

G, on why she hates justified text

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“In justified text, there is always a trade-off between evenness of spacing and frequency of hyphenation. The best available compromise will depend on the nature of the text as well as on the specifics of the design. Good compositors like to avoid consecutive hyphenated line-ends, but frequent hyphens are better than sloppy spacing, and ragged setting is better yet.

“Narrow measures – which make good justification extremely difficult – are commonly used when the text is set in multiple columns. Setting ragged right under these conditions will lighten the page and decrease its stiffness, as well as preventing an outbreak of hyphenation.

“Many unserifed faces look best when set ragged no matter what the length of the measure. And monospaced fonts, which are common on typewriters, always look better set ragged, in standard typewriter style. A typewriter (or a computer-driven printer of similar quality) that justifies its lines in imitation of typesetting is a presumptuous, uneducated machine, mimicking the outward form instead of the inner truth of typography.”

Robert Bringhurst in The Elements of Typographic Style, version 3.1

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