Is there still something wrong with justified text in online media (compared to print media) nowadays?

Wikipedia says at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typographic_alignment, that:

A common type of text alignment in print media is "justification", where the spaces between words, and, to a lesser extent, between glyphs or letters, are stretched or compressed to align both the left and right ends of each line of text.

Here is an example, from a long post with several answers (the topic being absolutely irrelevant), how unjustified text looks like: I am a serial upvoter.

This is a link to a seven year old discussion from the sister site SO: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/315845/should-i-avoid-using-text-align-justify with a lot of good points about this issue, but some of the more recent comments indicate that "thigs are slowly changing".

And here is a more recent post (actually, the only post here at M.TEX.SE containing both the words "justified" and "text"): Why doesn't TeX.sx use TeX fonts? showing an awesome rendering of justified text.

Yet, online media, such as http://time.com/ or www.wsj.com/europe or http://edition.cnn.com/ does not seem to use justified text, so this seems to be the "industry standard", as of today.

I understand that justified text in certain environments could look strange, e.g. when the text width got resized together with the window size. However, this does not seem to be the case here, at TEX.SE.

Are there any, (if so, then what?) technical obstacles in implementing a justified text to a website? One possibility I could think of is that justification might require extra resources (i.e. slows things down).

Are there any typographical reasons against using justified text in online media?

Is left-aligned text the best choice for an online typographical site, and is this the state-of-the art? There is really nothing better to do? Is the site TEX.SE an exemplary online media site, based on its typographical outlook? If the consensus is, that automatic/mandatory justification cannot work, would it be possible to format existing/new posts, where appropriate, to justified text? Would such a feature-request would make any sense, and would anyone actually support such a feature request? Again, it seems to me that the width of the posts and comments are fixed, so window-resizing wouldn't cause things to go crazy. So, to summarize:

why the text at TEX.SE is not justified?

  • Would such a feature request make any sense, and would anyone actually support such a feature request? No. ...a very broad request for perhaps zero benefit.
    – Werner Mod
    Apr 24, 2016 at 15:51
  • 2
    I believe there has to be a distinction between printed and online media. Personally, I find very difficult to read serif justified font on screen, but that's just me. Besides, justification requires crafting and because of different view sizes, it would produce beautiful and ugly results at the same time... Just my two cents... :) Apr 24, 2016 at 15:52
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    @PauloCereda -- justified text in print can both look terrible and be hard to read especially if the content is largely long, unhyphenatable strings in narrow columns. things are no better in electronic form. (at the moment i'm suffering through an interesting ebook with execrable presentation largely because of terrible spacing.) and consider what the spacing would be like with the text of this question! enough reason that justification would be counterproductive. Apr 24, 2016 at 20:33
  • @barbarabeeton: thank you for the great insight, Barbara! :) Apr 24, 2016 at 23:26
  • @barbarabeeton I agree. The worst ebooks to read, I find, are the ones that are justified as they are invariably optimised for a particular font size and screen size, but if I use a different size they look far worse than simple ragged-right. In some cases they have hard-coded line breaks and hyphens, which is really distracting when they don't coincide with the edge of the device. Apr 26, 2016 at 11:17
  • Another notable difference between online and print media is that in online media you have the tool of anti-aliasing. As of now I have no idea whether this is a problem or a solution regarding online text justification.
    – Matsmath
    Apr 30, 2016 at 17:13
  • Related: strategies for full-width justification. I have never seen this snake-thing before.
    – Matsmath
    May 5, 2016 at 7:41

2 Answers 2


Because there is no need to blend online and printed media here.

What you may find beneficial - having justified text online/here - may not work well for others. Perhaps, using a similar discussion, there has been a related request to render (La)TeX via MathJax. However, this site is dedicated to the code behind the printed media.

Related: Why doesn't maths render as maths?

  • Honestly, I expected a somewhat stronger argument, supported by hard facts, such as "lack of hyphenation" or "text on this website is usually fragmented with lengthy hyperlinks which are difficult/annoying to break at line ends" or "the static fonts used by the browsers does not support it". Based on the discussion at the other sister site graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/16137/… I feel like that the use of justified text is situational, and rather opinion based. If I write a book, I justify. If I read a book on screen, I flush left?
    – Matsmath
    Apr 25, 2016 at 18:45
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    @Matsmath: Situational or subjective, indeed. Subjective requests are difficult to counter or support with "hard facts".
    – Werner Mod
    Apr 25, 2016 at 18:48
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    @Matsmath -- justification may not really even be "justified" for printed books; it depends on the content as well as the means of production. when metal type was hand set, justification was desirable so that type wouldn't fall apart when being handled (some presses tipped the type nearly vertical as it met the paper, so all lines had to be exactly the same length, and locked tightly in the chase so that it wouldn't accidentally "decompose".) the addition of things like urls and other long, unbreakable strings makes tidy justification harder, and offset printing eliminates the falling apart. Apr 26, 2016 at 18:37
  • @Matsmath You asked why this site doesn't have justified text, with the implication being that you'd expect a site devoted to TeX to justify text. Werner's answer addresses that question. The answer to why some site not devoted to TeX doesn't have it is bound to be different, given the question asked here. As Werner says, the site is about the code - not the result, in that sense. My code is laid out in ragged right, monowidth font. I edited my doctoral thesis in Comic Sans just because I could. I'm not suggesting the site should use Comic Sans, but the TeX would be none the worse.
    – cfr
    May 10, 2016 at 2:42

Text justification is not a straightforward matter. When used without a computational overhead almost always leads to poor results (for example any Microsoft Word version until the last one 2013 I guess) the reason is that the user base has ridiculously diverse text sizes and you have to make sure that the display is uniform across all platforms. That implies that there must be a TeX like dynamic engine (that is what Kindle, Kobo etc. has) that handles the justification. That then implies that page loading becomes more resource demanding. That implies a lot of other problems in terms of user experience, for example screen resizing; you can't make them wait just to resize the screen.

Instead you just leave it unjustified and HTML rendering does a simple if doesn't fit break it to the next line job. Personally I don't like justified text as it is often visible to see the stretched out spaces in between words (unless I typeset stuff with TeX which tries a lot to make things smooth).

Text justification problems appear on many places if you spend some time on google. Here is one after half a minute of searching


There are also other issues with hypenation etc. in the narrow column context ala news portals and so on but an expert can tell more about it.

  • I appreciate your feedback, and the lack of browser support seems to be a valid problem. However, for a word of criticism, I don't think that you spent your "half minute of Google search" well: a seven-year old article in the technological era could very well be outdated already.
    – Matsmath
    Apr 28, 2016 at 9:56
  • @Matsmath You can adjust the google search tools to get something fresh but the conclusions are pretty much the same
    – percusse
    Apr 28, 2016 at 9:57
  • @Matsmath -- justification, as percusse says, is non-trivial. almost nobody has examined it more closely than hermann zapf and peter karow, in the hz-program, and knuth and plass for tex. this article is critical of one part in particular (glyph scaling) of the indesign implementation of the hz approach, but doesn't offer any better ideas. search google for "hz-program" for other information on that subject. the hz algorithm was developed pre-1990, and i know of no important advances since. Apr 28, 2016 at 12:15
  • @barbarabeeton I thank you for pointing me towards scientific works. Your examples of Zapf, Karow, and Knuth show that it took considerable efforts to make print media nicely justified as of today. It seems that similar (or even more) efforts are needed to achieve the same results in online media. Perhaps, more importantly, people should feel that it is something needed. But sadly, they don't (yet).
    – Matsmath
    Apr 28, 2016 at 13:06
  • @Matsmath You have the presupposition that text justification is better than other line breaking styles. It is really not. There are also psychological experiments which you can google. Readability is a subjective matter. Check them out.
    – percusse
    Apr 29, 2016 at 14:55
  • There are two conclusions so far. 1: justification is not "specifying a meta tag in html", or "clicking a button in MS Word". It is more. 2: The naive justification, which is currently available in the online media, is just a dumbed down variant of the art of proper justification which has century-old traditions in print media. Such a naive typesetting of course results in poor text. One should make a clear distinction between the two ways of justification. I firmly believe that properly justified text (online or offline) looks better. A reform to online typesetting is about timely.
    – Matsmath
    Apr 29, 2016 at 16:22
  • @Matsmath I really really hope that reform never comes. I truly hate OCD text. Some more arguments for nonjustufied but still pretty good typography pearsonified.com/2011/12/golden-ratio-typography.php Again OCD but just a counterexample to non justified text
    – percusse
    Apr 29, 2016 at 18:14

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