Formatting a book involves more than simply typing words onto a page, it involves ‘shaping’ the text so that it looks right and is easy to read. Text can be formatting in 4 ways. It can be centered, aligned right (left ragged), aligned left (right ragged) or justified. Which alignment is best for self published books?
What is Justified Text?
|Justified Text can be Ugly|
if columns are narrow.
Simply put, text that is justified forms a ‘block’ on the page. The alignment on the left and the right of the text are straight, except for the final line, which likely will contain a shorter line. See image.
Justified text can look neat and visually appealing unless each line is short and therefore possess fewer characters. This will not pose a problem with novels, as the lines all run the entire width of the page and therefore each word will posses equal relatively equal amounts of space. This can be seen in the upper 2 screenshots which possess quite a few words per line.
When Justified Text Looks Ugly
But if the block of text is quite narrow, as can be seen in the lower screenshots, there are fewer words per line, meaning that if a line has long words, there are likely to be ugly gaps between them. This can cause ‘rivers’ to appear between words. I have highlighted these rivers in yellow. The upper right image shows these gaps are generally thinner and occur quite evenly throughout the text. The lower image shows these gaps quite are wide in places.
Many readers find such rivers distracting which makes the book difficult to read. In such cases, it might be wiser not to justify the text.
When to Use Align Left in Text
|Ragged Right Text in Books|
Align left, otherwise known as ragged right, means that each line of text are not equal in length and is determined by the number of characters and spaces in each line. Ragged right has a more organic look about it and might be the better option in text arranged in narrow columns (see 1). This will rid of the ugly rivers that appear to stream between words in shorter lines, but the length of each line will vary, giving it that ‘ragged’ look on the end of each line. 2 and 3 shows how ragged right will generally appear less ragged if each line is longer.
Book Formatting Tips
Depending upon the situation, a blend of the 2 might work best. In the case of novels, justified is no problem and is most often used throughout, as there are many characters and spaces on each line. Rivers are less likely to occur. Titles and chapter headings can be centered or aligned left, depending upon the style of the formatting.
How to Format Text
But if each line is quite short, and fewer words make up each line, align left might be best. This will eliminate rivers between words. In my example, I used justified for large blocks of text that run (or almost run) the entire width of the page. However, I will use align left for text snippets, and captions such as small blocks of text. Image captions might look best if centered. Ultimately, it is about whether the text looks good and is easy to read.
How to Format Text within Books
Formatting text within books is a fine art that requires sensitive decisions. Justified will look good if there are a fair amount of words on each line, and white rivers are less likely to happen. However, if the text is arranged in narrow columns or in small snippets, longer words could cause rivers between the text. In such cases, align left (or ragged right) will take the ugly rivers away, but the right side will have an organic and more uneven look about it.
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