Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The justification for justification

Online or printed lines of type are said to be “justified” when most lines are the same length and they fill the space from left to right.

Justified type, which is still the dominant format for book printing, can look beautiful, but takes more time and money to do right. A lot of very ugly justified type gets printed, particularly in newspapers with narrow columns and in self-published and subsidized books.

The lines of type in this website are like most websites and a growing number of magazines and books. The type is set “flush left/ragged right.” Ragged right is much easier to produce, and people accept it.

Justified type has a more formal, polished look. Ragged is obviously less formal, but people can rightfully claim that justified type in abnormal and artificial, and ragged right is normal and natural.

My first self-published Print On Demand book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students -- stories from school and real life, is very informal. Ragged right seemed to be appropriate for the mood of the book, and it saved time.

My second POD book, Phone Systems & Phones for Small Business & Home, is more formal, more expensive and is intended to be a reference book for business people. Justified type seemed appropriate, and I was willing to invest the extra time to make it look traditional.

When I finished my tedious labor, I was so pleased with the results, that I decided to re-do the "flunk book" with justified type, while I was making other modifications and corrections.

BE CAREFUL if you are justifying a book that was already completed with ragged right type. Most lines will expand to the right margin, and sometimes words that used to fit on one page will "creep" onto another page. You may have to change the page numbering for chapter beginnings, or cut words or make illustrations smaller to get what you want.

Sometimes the spaces between words will look lousy, and you'll have to experiment with hyphenation, and sometimes switch to shorter or longer words, or add or subtract words, to make things look right.

Be very careful to check the last line in a paragraph. Sometimes even three words are spead out full-width, and they'll look very stupid. You can just select the line and re-do it as flush-left, or (in MS Word) tap the Enter key after the last word in the line.

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