Writing Style – To Justify or not to Justify Text

BizWritingTip reader: “Should letters, brochures, etc., be justified or left aligned?”

BizWritingTip response: There is no right or wrong answer here. Full justified or aligned text (text with even left and right margins) is considered a formal style and less friendly. But it looks neat.

I find that most readers prefer justification in documents with a narrow line width, e.g., brochures and newspapers. In addition, books are traditionally published with full justification.

However, if you are doing a letter or lengthy report, the downside of justification is that it may look dense and difficult to read. And I find that readers who skim documents tend to miss entire lines.

If you want to give a document a formal feel with full justification, remember to break up the dense blocks of text with graphics and subheads. Do not justify the subheads. You will also have to pay extra attention to word and character spacing and hyphenation to avoid “rivers of white space” running through your text.

When I am writing a letter or a report, I prefer a left-aligned text (text with uneven right margins). I find this approach — although it may not look as attractive as justified copy — increases readability. It gives the readers’ eyes a rest at the end of each line and a place to hook their eyes before moving to the next line. In addition, left aligned just seems warmer and friendlier. Naturally, emails are never justified.

To repeat: There is no right or wrong way to align text. Use the alignment that makes the most sense for the design and that effectively communicates your message.