Should you use ragged right, left or justified typesetting?
Is it more effective to use justified typesetting or ranged left (ragged right) typesetting for text in a printed publication? 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 some awkward gaps between words or even words split into two parts.
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 comprehension level results for each Typesetting specified were:
Layout with totally justified setting: Good 67%, Fair 19% and Poor 14%
Layout with ragged right setting: Good 38%, Fair 22% and Poor 40%
Layout with ragged left setting: Good 10%, Fair 18% and Poor 72%
The above results are quite clear: typesetting justified on left and right clearly works best for good reader comprehension of columns of text in printed publications. Comprehension drops away significantly with ragged right setting for columns of text. 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.
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 is out of print, a more recent version is available under the title: Type & Layout: are you communicating or just making pretty shapes? Author Colin Wheildon, publisher The Worsley Press, Melbourne, Australia, 2007.)