There are many factors affecting the readability of a text much more than justification. Writing a single line of text without using paragraphs or using excessive length of lines are cosmetically the worst practices of writing an article. All of these bad practices are enough to irritate healthy eyes and even blow readers’ top who have eye conditions like advanced astigmatism that causes a distorted vision and makes difficult to follow lines. I would like to touch on this issue even justification has much less affect on readability/accessibility than the other freaky behaviors that I have mentioned above. (In addition, justified text can cause a further problem for those with dyslexia, which I will mention below.)
First of all, there are no strict “rules” for determining conditions to use or not to use justification. The publisher can decide whether to justify or not to justify text according to theme and content.
Then let’s continue with two basic points.
First, even the justification was made flawlessly with a perfect algorithm, it is a truth that justifying a text usually means sacrificing readability for cosmetic reasons.
Human eyes have more than 180 degrees of binocular horizontal visual field. However, our eyes cannot focus on the whole field of view at the same time. The farther away we are from the focal point, the lower our quality of vision. That’s why you can easily notice someone is coming from the left or right side while directly looking at the screen right across you, but you may need to turn your head towards the person to find out who is coming.
Let’s take a text you read on a desktop computer’s screen. When you are in the middle of the text, you will see and read 100% of the exact word that you focus on. You will also see some words at the beginning and at the end of the paragraph. But without focusing on them, you cannot read them. This, of course, depends on the size of the screen and the length of the paragraph.
The point is that, even you cannot read the word at the end of the line while looking at the center of the line, you can see where it ends. It is precisely because of this, a left aligned text will be more readable than a justified text that every single line of it ends at vertically the same point. This can be observed while just reading a paragraph or looking at another direction and then looking at the same paragraph again. In conclusion, justifying text negatively affects readability even if a perfect algorithm is used.
Second, today’s web browsers may not have perfectly working justification implementations. Even the results are acceptable, they are still far from being perfect.
As you can see, the results are acceptable for a regular text. The last example containing an extremely long word, is the worst one, but it is an unrealistic situation at all. Actually, the source of the issue is the way that today’s CSS3 compliant browsers use while justifying text, which cause gaps between words. Our eyes usually tolerate these gaps between words as long as they are not longer than the “Panama Canal”.
By the way, it is worth noting that the “Justify” button has been removed from the editor (TinyMCE) since WordPress 4.7, due to uneven browser implementation and reduced readability.
Finally, I want to state that I did not said “Never justify any text” in this article. I only said “Do not justify everything you see” at all. Of course it is the publisher’s choice to justify or not justify text. Leaving the printed media uncommented, I would personally think twice before using text justification everywhere, especially on websites with heavy text content.
Justifying all of the text is not, and should not be, a standard for the web.
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