research on justified vs. ragged right

Subject: research on justified vs. ragged right
From: "Holly Turner" <hollyjoi -at- mindspring -dot- com>
To: <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 25 Dec 1999 13:27:14 -0500

Hello. I'm looking for research regarding the use of justification and
ragged paragraphs in printed documentation. We've had an abundance of
opinions in our group, and, honestly, I am just interested in studies that
you might know about, not opinions or "I've heard that this is how you
should do it, because..." (sorry!).

Our techpubs group has come up with two references, one from Horton and
One from Wheildon. I've listed them at the end of this e-mail. Do any of
know of any other studies that support either justified or ragged right?

Holly Turner
Technical Writer, Internet Security Systems, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

I'm not certain if the Horton example refers to justification that is
rendered by HTML or another purely online tool, or justified text that is
rendered by a professional publishing tool like FrameMaker. He says that
full justification reduces the rate of reading (I guess, slows it down),
by 10%. He doesn't say if he conducted this study himself or if he's
another study, so I'm not actually sure where his numbers came from.
Here's the actual paragraph from his book, Designing and Writing Online
Documentation, Second Edition (pg 250):
"Left justify rather than fully justify text. Fully justified text, as
used on paper books, requires elements of fine typography not available on
computer systems. Fully justifying online text usually requires putting
extra spaces between words. This results in uneven word spacing and
occasional rivers of white flowing vertically through paragraphs of text.
Not surprisingly, full justification reduces reading rates about 10

Colin Wheildon in his book, Type & Layout, describes a study he conducted
comparing justification to ragged right and ragged left. He concluded
that users retained more information about fully justified text in
to ragged (right or left) text. Here are the percentages from the book:

Comprehension Level
Good Fair Poor
Justified 67% 19% 14%
Ragged right 38% 22% 40%
Ragged left 10% 18% 72%

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