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If I cannot avoid having a line that deviates in length from other lines in a document: should I choose a slightly shorter line or a slightly longer line?

In this example, the first line of footnote 10 is slightly too long in the first, and slightly too short in the second image. The first line of footnote 10 is too long The first line of footnote 10 is too short This problem may occur when writing documents in LaTeX, even after applying the usual measures (e.g. \emergencystretch, \sloppy). In LaTeX, you will receive an “underfull \hbox” or “overfull \hbox” warning if this happens. There may be ways to avoid the problem, but that is not the point and this question is not about LaTeX, it is about typography. It is not about this particular example either, which is why I added the tag design-principles.

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  • This may be a daft question, but are there hyphens in this language (sorry - I'm going to show my ignorance, in that I haven't got a clue whether the glyphs are Chinese, Japanese or Korean), or, if there are hyphens, are they unacceptable in this context? – Paul Sep 12 '17 at 13:41
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    This may also be a daft question, but can you not justify your text? – Vinny Sep 12 '17 at 14:06
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    You should be asking people who speak this language this question – Zach Saucier Sep 12 '17 at 14:17
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    I'm amazed that there is concern over what appears to be ~3mm difference in a footnote line length. – Scott Sep 12 '17 at 17:06
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    @Scott I'm amazed that you would not find a 3 mm difference in footnote line length cause for concern. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 13 '17 at 16:42
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Since you admit that this is not about LaTeX, and you wish to have this answer in typographic measurement: there is a slight advantage for a line of text that does NOT end short.

Lines that end short are called "widows" (especially if the line of text is only one or two short words). Reading a document with many widows will take slightly longer to read compared to a document with no widows. The reason is that your eyeball takes extra time to move down, move left, move right, etc etc. Your eyes are like robots: they require a sequence of movements. As a designer, you should minimize the required movement of your reader to complete a task.

There are a more typography tricks that can hinder readability (rags and orphans). If you wish to learn more, here is a good article that introduces these terms:

https://www.fonts.com/content/learning/fontology/level-2/text-typography/rags-widows-orphans

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