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Using ragged right, left or justified typesetting

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

Justified typesetting is when the words at the start and finish of every line in a column of printed text are flush or evenly aligned with the words at the start and finish of all the lines above and below.

Justification can create symmetry to a page if is used in wide columns. It is universally used in books, magazines and newspapers. However, in narrow columns, it can create awkward gaps between words.

Colin Wheildon, editor of the largest Australian motoring publication, wanted to find out whether it was more effective to use justified typesetting or ragged right typesetting for the column text in his publication (It is generally accepted that ragged left setting is hard to read.). With one million readers, Wheildon wanted to maximize the effectiveness of his printed words.

He tested full pages of type using four columns to the page with Corona Roman type, which is similar to the widely used Times New Roman. The results:

Typesetting specified
Comprehension level
  % Good % Fair % Poor
Layout with totally justified setting 67 19 14
Layout with ragged right setting 38 22 40
Layout with ragged left setting 10 18 72


The results in the table are quite clear: typesetting justified on left and right clearly works best for good reader comprehension of columns of text. Comprehension drops away significantly with ragged right setting. Wheildon included ragged left typesetting in the test, although he knew from experience it would be disastrous, and indeed it was, with only 10% of readers showing good comprehension of the text set in this way.

What is the ideal character count for each line in a column? This is rather subjective, but general agreement points to 60-70 characters per line (including spaces) for printed pages.

Email marketing experts say that 65 characters per line, including spaces, is the maximum acceptable column length for emailing campaigns. The ideal length is 60-63 characters including spaces. If you exceed 65 characters you run the risk of having lines cut off or causing bad line breaks. 

(Although Colin Wheildon’s original book, Communicating or just making pretty shapes, is out of print, a new edition has recently been published and is available at under the title: Type & Layout: how typography and design can get your message across - or get in the way. Author Colin Wheildon, editor Mal Warwick.The Worsley Press, Publishers. Second edition, March 2005. Soft cover, 176 pages. ISBN: 1875750223. Price: US$36.95.)


This article is one of a series on publication design and typography in the "Core PR skills" area of


About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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