If you are laying out text with narrow columns, using full justification without hyphenation is unlikely to result in an attractive document. Very narrow columns are most commonly the result of wrapping text around images. Consider the following unhyphenated and fully justified example:

Unhyphenated Fully Justified Text

Unhyphenated Fully Justified Text

Pretty ugly, right?

Compare that to a hyphenated version:

Hyphenated Fully Justified Text

Hyphenated Fully Justified Text

The hyphenated example above is still not perfect, but I suspect most readers will agree with me that it looks better than the unhyphenated example. These cases were created with a standard word processor (Mac Pages) by a person who is not a layout expert (me). A professional using real typesetting or layout software could undoubtedly do much better.

Many people prefer fully justified text, because it provides a veneer of profesionalism (since most books use fully justified text). However, fully justified is not the only option. Ragged text is a totally legitimate alternative. Ragged vs. hyphenated-and-fully-justified is a taste thing, but full justification without hyphenation (especially in a context of narrow columns, as shown here) should probably just be avoided.

Given that I have found myself giving this feedback several times now, I figured it merited a page that I could just reference. (And now you can too, if you come across egregious layouts and agree with my document aesthetics.)

Ragged right example

Ragged Right Example

Example images and text taken from the Wikipedia page on Necromancy:


5 thoughts on “Hyphenation

  1. ramanan

    You can drop the “probably” in this sentence: “… full justification without hyphenation (especially in a context of narrow columns, as shown here) should probably just be avoided.” I don’t think there is ever any good reason to justify text if its also not being hyphenated properly. It’s all the more terrible when you see people doing it in narrow columns.

  2. André Rodrigues

    I admit to hyphenating manually only in sentences where justification leaves a ridiculously huge space between words. But thanks to this article I just tried automatic hyphenation in Word and it is really easy and seems to work quite well.

    Interestingly, I recall delivering a paper back in high school (some 11 years ago) and being told by the teacher and some classmates that justification “looks much better and more professional” than align left… then again, there was a time when all school papers had the title written in Wordart…


Leave a Reply