Justified Spacing

When you format your manuscript in Justified spacing, you introduce a new set of spacing problems. You need to know what to watch out for so your rags (line endings) don’t distract your reader or make fill lines with wide gaps to make the words fit.

What is Justified text?

Justified spacing is the paragraph alignment where the lines rag evenly on both the left and right sides. This causes a smooth edge along the side of the page. Your word processor achieves this edge by adjusting the spacing between words and letters.

text with Align Left on the left column and Justified on the right column
text with Align Left on the left column and Justified on the right column

Sometimes, too much space is added, and it makes the line difficult to read. To avoid this, you can adjust the hyphenation settings. This allows your processor to break up words to keep the spacing between words and letters from becoming too exaggerated.

justified text with no hyphenations and wide gaps between words (some line rags were intentionally placed to exaggerate gaps for demonstration purposes)
justified text with no hyphenations and wide gaps between words (some line rags were intentionally placed to exaggerate gaps for demonstration purposes)
justified text with automatic hyphenation and the hyphenation zone set at .25"
justified text with automatic hyphenation and the Hyphenation zone set at .25″

How to Justify your text in Microsoft Word

In Microsoft Word, you can justify your text through three ways: the home banner, the Paragraph Settings dialog box, and modifying the text Style‘s paragraph settings.

Home banner button:

Select your text you want to Justify (Ctrl+A for all text) > Home banner > Paragraph section > Justify button.

justify button
Justify button in MS Word

Paragraph Settings dialog box:

Select your text you want to Justify (Ctrl+A for all text) > Open Paragraph Settings > General section > Alignment drop down > Justified > Ok.

Justify drop down in Paragraph Settings dialog box
Justify drop down in Paragraph Settings dialog box in MS Word

Modifying the text Style‘s paragraph settings:

Right-click the Style name > click Modify > Format drop down > Paragraph > General section > Alignment drop down > Justified > Ok.

Style modification drop down after right-clicking a Style in MS Word
Style modification drop down after right-clicking a Style in MS Word
Style modification menu for formatting paragraphs and Justified alignment in MS Word

Once the modification has been set, all text with that applied style will be aligned with Justified.

Hyphenation in Justified text

MS Word’s Hyphenation settings lets you control how much spacing is between words and letters in Justified spacing. By breaking up words along the line ends, you allow the word processor to use smaller spaces between words and letters, which makes spacing look more uniform (even though it sill varies from line to line).

MS Word allows three options for hyphenation: none, automatic, and manual, though there are some minor settings. Unfortunately, as of August 2019, Google Docs does not allow you to adjust hyphenation. If you want even more specific control on Justified text and hyphenation, then I suggest looking into Adobe’s Indesign or other publishing software.

Hyphenation settings are found in Page Setup.

Go to the Layout banner > Page Setup section > Hyphenation dropdown. For additional options, click Hyphenation Options in the dropdown.

Layout > Page Setup > Hyphenation > Hyphenation Options

The default setting for Automatic Justification is .25″ spacing (spacing no larger than .25″) and limitless hyphens in a row. However, you can adjust how many lines in a row can be hyphenated and how much space is allowed between words to avoid hyphenating words.

MS Word Hyphenation Options dialog box

The Hyphenation zone determines the maximum amount of space allowed between words before hyphenation is needed to break the line. More space increases the chance for fewer hyphenations in your text, but it also means more gaps between words.

The following two images have different Hyphenation zones. As a result, the hyphens are placed differently.

text with Hyphenation zone set to .5" with limitless hyphens in MS Word

justified text with automatic hyphenation and the Hyphenation zone set at .5″ with limitless hyphenation
justified text with automatic hyphenation and the Hyphenation zone set at .25"
justified text with automatic hyphenation and the Hyphenation zone set at .25″ with limitless hyphenation

You can also adjust the number of hyphens in a row permitted. In the previous image, there are two hyphens in a row in the first and second line. By changing the Limit consecutive hyphens to setting, you can ensure there aren’t multiple lines in a row with hyphenation.

justified text with automatic hyphenation and the Hyphenation zone set at .25" with a limit of 1 consecutive hyphen

justified text with automatic hyphenation and the Hyphenation zone set at .25″ with a limit of 1 consecutive hyphen

With the limit of only 1 consecutive hyphen, the text re-ragged so the first two lines didn’t have hyphens. It shifted the second hyphen to the third line, but now there are more gaps of space between the words on the second line.

What to watch out for with hyphenation

When you’re using hyphenation, you need to ensure hyphens are being placed properly. You should never break up syllables in a word, but word processors don’t always distinguish where syllables are for word breaks.

For example, the word progress should be hyphenated as pro-gress instead of pr-ogress. Re-turn instead of ret-urn. Batt-ery instead of Ba-ttery.

If the word is only one syllable, place the break between a consonant and vowel, not a vowel and consonant.

For example, shrugg-ed instead of shru-gged.

You should also avoid breaking up proper nouns when possible. Sometimes you need to hyphenate names, but if you can avoid it and it doesn’t create noticeably larger gaps between words, then leave them alone.

Looking for more editing tips or formatting tips? Check out BDR’s guides!

Justified Spacing title on top of text and glasses
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