Re: Ragged Right

Subject: Re: Ragged Right
From: "Susan W. Gallagher" <sgallagher -at- EXPERSOFT -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 7 Feb 1996 16:16:13 -0800

At 9:59 AM 2/7/96, Virginia L. Krenn wrote:
> Copied below is an exchange from a newsgroup in which I participate. I
> would like to receive comments from the people on this list about the
> last paragraph concerning ragged right. Of course, I would also welcome
> comments on the other ideas expressed in this exchange.
> >> When using proportionally-spaced fonts, you don't double space
> >> between sentences. This is a typography rule that has existed for
> >> a few centuries.
> > Research has shown that the use of more than one space after
> > punctuation marks causes what is known to writers as 'rivers'. They
> > drag the reader's eyes down the page vertically and make it more
> > difficult to read horizontal text. Additionally, the use of right
> > justification causes extra spaces to be inserted between words. For
> > the same reason as stated above, ragged right is preferred.

What you've got here, Virginia, is a complete set of sweeping
generalizations about typesetting. ;-)

The original poster is correct in that the convention is to use
a single space between sentences in proportionally-spaced text.
Although readability tests indicate that a slightly larger space is
warranted between sentences, two spaces is too much, em-spaces are
too cumbersome to insert, so you concede and go with one.

The issue of ragged-right vs. right-justified text is complicated
by line length, hyphenation, and micro-justification (adding inter-
word spacing).

Short lines of text are difficult to typeset -- you see problems
in newspapers all the time where only two words fit on a line so
one is left and the other is right with an enormous space in
between -- or only one word fits on the line and the letters are
s p a c e d w a y o u t o n t h e l i n e. ;-)
If words are not hyphenated intuitively you cut down on
comprehension, but a lack of hyphenation can leave rivers of
white space in paragraphs. All these things add up to make right-
justification difficult to do *well*.

OTOH, ragged-right eliminates or de-emphasises these problems
and it's also been shown in some readability studies (and I'm
sorry, I don't have any ref's at hand) that the difference in
line length can help readers track their place -- they don't
get lost in lines that are all the same lenght so their reading
speed increases.

As a general rule, anything that distracts the reader from the
*words* is a bad thing.

-Sue Gallagher
sgallagher -at- expersoft -dot- com

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