Justification and hyphenation

Why is virtually nothing on the web justified and hyphenated? Grab any book off the shelf in your home or office and I’ll bet you it’s justified and hyphenated. In fact, I challenge you to find me a book that isn’t.

Hundreds of years of making books and it seems to me everyone agrees justified and hyphenated is the way to go. Now all of a sudden it’s controversial whether or not it’s really better for reading, easier on the eyes, &c. The technology exists to easily hyphenate any website or app,1 but many developers either aren’t aware it’s possible or choose not to do it because they somehow think ragged-right is better.

And I’m not just talking about average blogs or news websites. I’m looking squarely at sites like Instapaper and Readability, and apps like Flipboard and Articles, who claim to offer a superior reading experience (and for the most part I think they do), yet continue to feature rag-right text. I’m also looking at e-book readers like Amazon’s Kindle or Apple’s iBooks,2 or Bible apps like OliveTree BibleReader or Crossway’s ESV Bible.

For all this new-fangled technology we have, e-reading is just not like reading a real book. It seems to me justification and hyphenation are a cheap and easy way to get closer to the real thing, so why aren’t they being utilized more universally? 


  1. For example, I use the excellent hyphenator.js right here on this site. 
  2. Although, for all I know Kindle and iBooks may very well have justification and hyphenation baked in as options and the decision not to leverage those features could be up to publishers at the level of the individual books, in which case my complaint is still valid, but should be leveled at publishers, not the platforms they publish on. 
  • ed

    I agree, I always justify my text on papers I type for classes and I’m literally the only one I know. A lot of books don’t seem to hyphenate, though, that’s more common with newspapers and magazines with very narrow columns. It looks pretty good on narrow web pages. I’ll have to try it out; fortunately that script handles multiple languages.