17

It seems that some people naturally prefer ragged right documents and some, like me, prefer fully-justified text blocks (using microtype for even better results).

I understand that part of the issue is personal taste, but my question is whether there a typographical reason to choose one over the other?

Specifically, since LaTeX goes to a lot of trouble to insure good line-lengths for full justification (I think), is it a bad practice to go to raggedright, which would seem to take away some of the benefits from using LaTeX?

The comments have helped me think about what the question is really about:

How can I insure that I keep high-quality typesetting with LaTeX even with ragged-right text. For example, this question shows that you need to use some options with microtype: Does combining microtype with ragged right make any sense?

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    For any document with long runs of text justification is almost universally used in published works. For technical manuals with short 2/3 line paragraphs and long unhyphenatable words, ragged setting may be more appropriate. (but either way I suspect this is off topic for this site) – David Carlisle Jun 8 '15 at 18:11
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    It very, very much depends on both the discipline and application. Remember that the goal of typography isn't just 'to look good' which is an inherently subjective measure, but rather to make the content easier to understand. Anything that puts an obstacle between the words and their meaning is typographically bad. The possible obstacles depends on many things (how wide the text block is; how long paragraphs are; how large the print will physically be; etc.). There isn't a correct answer to this question. – Sean Allred Jun 8 '15 at 18:17
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    I think this is a good question and can be changed slightly to by-pass the "primarily opinion based answers." Will you please redraft it a bit? You are not alone in your choice. I would say 95% of all books published have justifed text, both for economical as well as aesthetic reasons. – Yiannis Lazarides Jun 8 '15 at 18:46
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    the original reasons for justified text were (1) to replicate the style used by scribes, and (2) to keep metal type in place, since ragged lines couldn't easily be "locked in". (if you've ever had even a small block of hand-set type fall apart, you'll understand why (2) is important!) that said, for text especially in narrow columns with a lot of words -- or urls -- that can't be hyphenated easily or properly, ragged right is much easier to read, and therefore (personal opinion) preferable. – barbara beeton Jun 8 '15 at 19:03
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    @TimA you can edit your question using the edit link near the bottom left corner of the text of the post (just below the tags, and left of your user information). Full disclosure: I voted to close in current form, but if you can rework it to fit the site format better, you can count on my upvote and/or re-open vote! – Paul Gessler Jun 8 '15 at 19:13
13

The choice between ragged right or justified typesetting depends on the nature of the text you have to set. A discussion about this is mostly off-topic for this site, but some TeXnical aspects are surely on topic.

The algorithm TeX uses for breaking lines is equally good for both methods and can be tuned up to give a pleasing result: one can for instance choose to avoid hyphenation in ragged right text (the standard \raggedright setting in LaTeX) or allow it (with \RaggedRight from the ragged2e package.

The facilities provided by microtype can certainly be helpful also with ragged right typesetting. Here's an example, where the paragraph turns out to be one line longer without microtype.

\documentclass{article}
\usepackage{microtype,kantlipsum}

\begin{document}
\raggedright

\kant[1]

\bigskip\hrule\bigskip

\microtypesetup{activate=false}

\kant[1]

\end{document}

enter image description here

Here's the result when we load ragged2e and use \RaggedRight instead of \raggedright, thereby allowing hyphenation:

enter image description here

I should note that in this case one line turns out to be overfull when microtype is active (top paragraph), precisely

Overfull \hbox (0.12758pt too wide) in paragraph at lines 7--7
\OT1/cmr/m/n/10 (+7) re-sen-ta-tion of, as far as I know, the things in them-se
lves; as I have shown else- 

However, this is a false problem, because in a ragged right setting one can increase \hfuzz to a higher value than the 0.1pt default. One should also tune up the parameters for microtype more carefully.

Here's the last example, where the paragraph is set in two column mode, left with microtype, right without it:

\documentclass{article}
\usepackage{microtype,kantlipsum,ragged2e,multicol}

\begin{document}
\RaggedRight

\begin{multicols}{2}
\kant[1]

\columnbreak

\microtypesetup{activate=false}

\kant[1]
\end{multicols}

\end{document}

enter image description here

I'll leave the evaluation of the result to personal judgment.

  • The first example hurts in my eye, seeing a mixture of justificated lines mixed with raggedright. The saving of one line is definitely not worth that result. – jknappen Jun 9 '15 at 10:16
  • @jknappen I just wanted to remark that microtype does have effects also with ragged right text. Whether it's worth using it is not my concern. – egreg Jun 9 '15 at 10:18
  • Yes, the point of raggedright is setting everything to its natural width. Fiddling with justification just contradicts the essence of raggedright and the reason why it is choosen by some of the best typographers around in their work. – jknappen Jun 9 '15 at 10:21
  • @jknappen I believe that limiting the variability of line lengths in ragged right setting is something to pursue. – egreg Jun 9 '15 at 10:31
9

There are lots of opinions on this theme, but for an automated typesetting system justified text is very much preferable.

The reason is that high quality ragged-right typesetting (in German known as Rauhsatz) needs some human intervention to avoid some flaws that can easily occur, like

  • Distracting "shapes" of the right outline
  • Choice of unsensible line breaks

For languages with long compound words (like German) hyphenation is still necessary, but you should only hyphenate on sensible break points (Haupttrennstellen)

For the last question: No, the package microtype with its advanced justification facilities does not make sense for raggedright.

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