We cannot justify justified text

August 13, 2010

Although justified text is very common in traditional print and newspaper design, we avoid the use of it in web for many reasons.

There are 2 big reasons for not using justified text on web pages:

  1. the method we read text on a screen and
  2. the way Internet browsers (i.e. Firefox and Internet Explorer) handle text justification.

Text is more difficult to read on screen than it is in hard print because of the differences in screen resolution.

This is also because of the fact that, even though we are not consciously aware of it, the images on screen are not totally static. The image is constantly being refreshed, at many times a second. Just imagine trying to read moving text!

Our second reason is that Internet browsers are not very good at handling justification and displaying justified text. One browser is likely to be presented with text where the spaces between words varies a lot, unlike the more subtle variation in spacing that is achieved in printed text.

This extreme variation in the spacing makes the text more difficult to read – instead of the eye being able to move smoothly along the line of text, it has to move in “fits and starts”, searching for and jumping to the start of each word.

While someone with no sight problems or reading difficulties might find this no more than a mild aggravation, it can present real problems to anyone using screen magnification software (since the gaps between words are also magnified), and to people with conditions such as dyslexia.

Some people with reading difficulties and/or some cognitive disabilities find that the “rivers” of white space which can easily occur within justified passages of text on screen form a more distinct pattern than the actual words themselves, making the text extremely difficult to read and comprehend.

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