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In my computer science studies we are being forced to write a report every now and then. I have a background in web development and have worked closely with both print and web designers for many years so I know the importance of setting type and communicating messages in either good or bad ways.

When we hand in our reports to teachers and professors they usually want the text to be justified with "single line-height". They do not mention anything about the lengths of each line and how many characters it should contain. This means that all the students hand in 120 chars per line in 12pt Times New Roman with 14pt leading, justified. Of course these reports are unreadable for several reasons, the length of the lines and the rivers (seas more like it) of whitespace floating around in the text are just a few.

Since I have a background working with designers and I love nice typography I refuse to hand in a report looking like that. A problem that I have though is that I do not own a copy of InDesign, nor do I have the time to kern, change and space out characters and words if I would own a copy.

I could of course, use Google Drive's or Word's "justify" feature and use 60-70 chars at each line but to me it still doesn't feel right when looking at all the whitespace in the body of text. Since I've been doing a lot of web development I've also learned to avoid the CSS attribute that handles justification of text.

Until now I have simply used Google Drive with line length at 70-80 chars with 11pt Cambria as body with 14pt leading. My headers are in 14pt and 18pt Droid Sans with 16pt and 22pt leading. I've kept my text left aligned and tried to get rid of the worst jaggedness on the right side using hyphenation and I've been pretty happy with it. I've started reading more about justified text though to be able to defend my type setting choices against the evil computer science professors.

I've read through some other posts and as always it "depends" on which type of text you have and how much time you have:

Does hyphenation increase legibility?

Readability and appeal of justified text

http://designinstruct.com/web-design/typography-common-myths-and-mistakes/

  • What would be your professional advice on making this text be as readable as possible without having to spend $$$ on InDesign?
  • Justify in word/drive or keep it left aligned as is?
  • What are your thoughts on the general problem of justification and hyphenation of there is not enough time nor tools available?

https://docs.google.com/document/d/14mjNuMbDHtomWiwtRYR9duLC8Ug8nHDmt2g3p2Tn3mM/edit?usp=sharing

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2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Switch to LaTeX. It offers:

  • High quality typography without knowing much about the "behind-the-scenes" on how does it work.

  • Text is of course justified by default, that is how it should be, it is as well properly hyphenated to avoid long spaces.

  • Packages (extensions) for various things, including for instance listings text files (such as source codes), page layout modification etc.

  • Top-level system for typesetting mathematics (which is useful in CS). I know about couple other systems capable of it, but I don't think they are on this level.

  • And most importantly: It is free!

For more information, go to the TeX.SX site: What is the best book to start learning LaTeX?

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I'm looking at some examples of LaTeX reports and documents online and a lot of them look nice but I still see a lot of reports with far to many characters on each line and lots of white space between words. This indicates to me that there is still some configuration to be made to make it look properly. I guess it will not be perfectly readable out of the box? –  span Mar 2 '13 at 21:07
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@span Remember that LaTeX lets you alternate most of its settings including the text width. Many things look good by default, it's often the people having strange ideas. And I'm interested in example of a document where you consider the spaces wrong, can you provide a link? –  tohecz Mar 2 '13 at 21:09
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@span That one seems to be a combination of a font with large interword spaces, too loose linespacing and low resolution of the image. In general, the output is usually very good. LaTeX uses a high-end line-breaking and hyphenation algorithm to optimise the paragraph shape. –  tohecz Mar 2 '13 at 21:28
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@tohecz You missed another huge advantage: it can properly typeset mathematics, which could (should) be quite important in a computer science class. –  derobert Mar 4 '13 at 20:43
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@span Span, remember you will not work perfectly since the beginning. Just make some effort and stay some time until you get used to it. –  Manuel Mar 4 '13 at 21:36

The first bit of advice is DON'T without a heads-up to your teacher.

The second bit of advice is finish your report "normally" with nothing extra and print it out after proofreading and a THOROUGH spelling and grammar check.

Only attempt what you are suggesting in your post after you have completed your assignment and it is ready to pass in. This is called PLAN A.

Plan B is what you begin after Plan A is finished.

Times 12 is a condensed font. It was formulated for narrow line lengths. Try using a wider font that looks better in wider measures. OR…

If you wanna REALLY knock 'em dead, compose your report using two columns of justified text. The line lengths will be more suitable for the narrow face. 12 on 14 is not the worst situation. Using two columns with no other changes will be a significant departure.

Note: I am a college typography instructor. I give explicit instructions for a reason. Anyone who does not follow instructions, suffers the consequences. In short, ASK first.

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