RE: Vertically centering text in tables

Subject: RE: Vertically centering text in tables
From: Bill Burns <BillDB -at- intl -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2000 08:16:16 -0700

> My boss (not a tech writer, though he did play one on TV for a while)
> would
> like to change the alignment of text in tables in our documents. He wants
> to
> center text vertically, particularly in tables where one column has more
> text than others (and cells with less text have lots of empty, white
> space).
8< snip >8

> To me, it is just the opposite. Text in the left column should be aligned
> with the beginning of text it applies to in the right column.
> Additionally,
> top alignment of text in tables seems to be the norm. I can't find even
> one
> publication with text centered vertically in tables.
So you can show him numerous examples that suggest your method, if not
scientifically proven to be best, is at least in common practice, and he
still wants you to prove his way is wrong? You may have trouble even if you
confront him with overwhelming evidence unless the source specifically
states, "Always align table own headings with the top of the row border." I
can't say I've ever seen this stated explicitly.

However, you could point out that sentences in a table often wrap, and users
are not going to stop after the first line if the sentence continues. If the
sentence is in a paragraph, common experience would relate the first
sentence to the second. His view would suggest that readers stop after the
first line rather than completing the sentence in its context. People simply
don't read the way he is suggesting.

I can't remember where I read this point (possibly in Robin Williams' "The
Nondesigner's Design Book," but it seems like a reasonable expectation), but
readers of English (and other left-to-right reading languages) expect
objects in a page to be placed so they visually lead the eye from left to
right, then down. (For Arabic, Hebrew, and other bidirectional scripts, the
direction goes from right to left and down.) A centered alignment would
force a reader to look down, then back up on every new row, which would
violate that expectation.

Provide the examples and justifications, but if he really wants the layout
that way, give him what he wants. In a sense, he's your client, and the
client sets the quality standards.

Bill Burns - Eccentric Technology Consultant
INT' Design & Development
billdb -at- intl -dot- com
"Being disintegrated makes me very angry."

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