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Most books and magazine articles are printed with full justification, namely with both left and right justification, even though it is generally accepted that the most readable of the justification options is justification on the left only, with the right margin ragged.

(When I looked for some sources for this, I couldn't find a single one that says otherwise. The accepted view is that we find it easier to keep our place in a text when there is a rag on the right, as compared with when the lines of type all end at the same distance across the page, and that consequently text is more readable for us in the first format than in the second.)

So what are the advantages of using full justification?

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    This is related: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/q/145517/84899 – Wolff Jun 8 at 19:32
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    I would like to see documentation of that supposedly "accepted view". I find justified much easier to read with non-monospace fonts. – Ross Presser Jun 9 at 14:19
  • Because columns, for one. Straight-sided gutters look a lot better, and text lines are objectively easier to follow, than if text is ragged right. – user8356 Jun 9 at 14:42
  • @user8356, I'm not against full justification in any way, but how does it make lines objectively easier to follow? – Wolff Jun 9 at 22:00
  • @wolff -- Maybe it is a subjective not objective difference. But the straight edges of justified-column gutters are clearer visually than the snaking gutter edge on one side of ragged-right columns. Of course other factors like the width of the gutter, the line length in the columns, leading, character spacing, etc., all can affect readability. Straight gutter edges just eliminate some visual clutter where the eyes have to track to start each new line. There's just a little less 'noise' in the area, which I think has to mean easier recognition of each line, however slight the effect might be. – user8356 Jun 10 at 15:23
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The main argument I always hear (I work with scientists, and they say it a lot), is that it looks better at first glance*. For a lot of people, the ragged edge looks disorderly and chaotic. On a first superficial look, having two straight margins to your text seems very neat and ordered.

Also, again especially in science, there is inertia. 'This has always been the way we have done things' is a ridiculously strong force, and just about every big publication in science justifies their body texts.


* This apparently subjective qualification is—thank you curious in the comments—well-explained with Gestalt psychology. The justified 'block' of text is a simpler shape and thus looks like it's easier to make sense of than a way more complex-looking ragged-edge piece of text.
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    +1 It's not just scientists though. Look at almost any printed novel, and you'll find the same. Fully justified dense blocks/columns of text are nearly always more aesthetically pleasing (in my opinion). That alone is a good enough advantage. – Billy Kerr Jun 8 at 19:05
  • Full justification as the norm predates the novel, science, and printing. On the web, though, ragged right is the norm. In printing, compositors may possibly have guarded their restrictive practices and craft secrets - right-justifying by hand is highly skilled compared to moving down a line whenever a word won't fit at the end of the previous one. On the web, where line-length measured in characters is usually variable, has there ever been a major browser with a justification function? – ruffle Jun 8 at 23:06
  • @ruffle - yes. browsers can justify and have been able to for some time. not sure when introduced but it's pretty primal. here's the earliest css doc i could find and it's in there. w3.org/TR/1999/REC-CSS1-19990111. it's much more sophisticated now: developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/CSS/text-align and w3.org/TR/css-text-3 – keithpjolley Jun 9 at 1:08
  • @ruffle at the appropriate time, justification provided a clear distinction between typeset and typewritten work (among other distinctions of course) – Chris H Jun 9 at 8:57
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    "Is that it looks better at first glance". Seems to me like that could simply be explained with Gestalt; it's easier to make sense of a simple shape or "good figure", in this case a rectangle than a complex, ragged block of text. – curious Jun 10 at 17:10
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Justification isn't the only way to make text readable.

Line length and leading impact readability a whole lot more than justification. A reasonable paragraph length and indentation can also give you much of the effect of ragged right margins. What ragged right margins gives you is a "silhouette" to navigate by, but paragraphs with indented first lines will give you a similar visual aid and if the line is too long or the lines are to tight, the ragged right margin is not going to help a whole lot.

So full justification can make your text a bit less readable, but proper settings otherwise can offset that. On the other hand, full justification creates a more ordered and enticing text to read. It clearly outlines boundaries and makes the product look neater.

Websites often have ragged right margins, but for more reasons than just readability. First, HTML and CSS lack options for easy type setting. Programs such as InDesign can balance kerning, font width, spaces and word breaks to create a nice looking full justification, but CSS is much more crude and cannot. Also, a website must be assumed to be of adjustable width. When adjusting the width of a text with full justification, the text will jump around and look messy for a while. It may seem like a small thing, but it's a consideration that is made when making websites.

Layout is often a balance between looks and readability. Font choice, margin size, aspect ratio and so on are all part of that. On the whole, justification is a large part of the looks, but only a small part of the readability.

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To me, in some cases fully justified text looks aesthetically better to me. That way, it fits better with adjacent stuff or paragraphs. I've tried to show it using following example:

enter image description here

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    Wow, going out and destroying a wall just for a StackExchange answer. That’s dedication! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 9 at 9:53
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    I fail to see how a deficit in construction of a structure correlates to text in any way. Walls have an entirely different function than text. Walls must often be uniform for stability and security. I feel like this is a non-answer and doesn't really address the question at all. – Scott Jun 9 at 17:52
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    @Scott Aesthetics and function are often strangers. The ragged wall is an abstraction of the ragged right. For those who find the ragged right less aesthetically pleasing, it's like looking at a broken pillar. I'm not in a position to argue either side of that debate. – TecBrat Jun 9 at 20:10
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    @TecBrat There's no correlation. A broken wall carries with it an inherent perception of failure, decay, or destruction. Of course, viewers will see a ragged wall and perceive it as "lacking", "insufficient", or "incomplete". That is not true with ragged right text. – Scott Jun 9 at 20:30
  • Even IF the broken wall could relate to a ragged right text, it would be poorly ragged. This is not how a proper ragged text should look like. – curious Jun 10 at 0:05
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Good question and I'm always puzzled myself by how many clients just need to see justified text "out of habit" or because "it looks better".

I think this depends a lot on the type of content you're working with. For large text volume content (books and magazines), full justification makes more sense, as that allows for a quicker reading experience, less likely to get lost between lines of text, also better definition of columns, when columns are involved, better usage of whitespace and possible reduction in page count (potentially less paper being used, especially when hyphenation also comes into play).

For low volume work however, brochures, flyers, presentations and even web work, when you're working with smaller sections of text, narrow columns, sometimes just paragraphs a few lines long, and especially when more "page decoration" is involved, full justification can range between not functional, to pure ugliness.

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    How does justification allow for a quicker reading experience? Not condescending, just honestly curious. – Vincent Jun 9 at 9:42
  • That's debatable, but just assuming its more convenient for a general audience to follow lines in a boxed, rectangular container, as it happens with many text-only books. I mean most large scale publishers, Penguin, etc, consistently use full justification, so there must be some research on this. – Lucian Jun 9 at 9:59
  • Possibly. Do not underestimate the power of inertia, it may well be their motivation, too ;) – Vincent Jun 9 at 10:23
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    Yeah, well I don't particularly like justification and generally tend to avoid it, but in some cases I do use it, because it makes more sense with that particular content. – Lucian Jun 9 at 10:25
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    I mean most large scale publishers, Penguin, etc, consistently use full justification, so there must be some research on this. – The vast majority of keyboards you can buy are QWERTY or similar. I doubt that research supports that it is actually best. Useful readability research can be bloody difficult once people have certain habits and expectations, and that certainly plays a role here. – Wrzlprmft Jun 9 at 13:44
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Hyphenation, and then paper sheet economy

With hyphenation, you can fit more letters per line than without it. More letters per line means less lines, and then less paper used to print the same text.

You will see full justification text where there is (or, was) a history of economy scale on printing: bibles, journals, magazines...

With aggressive hyphenation, the ragged right margin almost disappear, and so the aid this provides.

The artificial hyphens are ugly, but less is a text with justification. And so you arrives if a justification for full justification.

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It's primarily a quantity over quality decision. Make it fit.

Aesthetics aside and all other parameters being equal, fully-justified text columns results in a higher 'words per page' count than ragged-left or ragged-right text columns. This is in print media. In digital media, where the parameters are more fluid, it may still result with more words per a given viewing screen area and/or less scrolling.

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