Opinion on Justified vs rag-right and PDF vs HTML

Justified or rag-right?

The common method newspapers use is to justify both left and right sides of text (generally called just "justified"). One old time typographer was asked why he preferred justified typesetting. He gave several answers but the last one was "Because the scribes in ancient monasteries produced their manuscripts that way." The term "rag-right" refers to left justified only. This article in Upper & Lower Case Magazine concludes that readers don't care unless it is justified and it has the excessive word spacing that sometimes can result with justified text.

Debunking Myths

Even the prestigious Poynter website says readers don't care in Myth 5: Justified type is better than rag right. By the way, I'm not saying you should change from justified to rag-right. I'm just pointing out history can have a big impact on what we decide to do and sometimes your readers don't care at all.


We've been in the business of providing Internet solutions to the newspaper industry for over 10 years now and one question that we just can't totally shake is "will PDF ever replace HTML as the main format for newspaper websites?" We've got plenty of evidence that it will not:

PDFs are hard to read

  • Navigation requires a lot of left to right scrolling;
  • Jumps are problematic for several reasons;
  • Zooming out to see large pictures, then zooming in to read text;
  • Often links don't work because they were not setup correctly;
  • The versions made for printing the newspaper paper are way to large and must be resized downward to allow a reasonable download time on the web;

HTML on the other hand

  • No left to right scrolling required;
  • No jumps (the whole story is together on one page);
  • Zooming in and out is not required as the pages are designed for one size;
  • Links are a key feature of HTML and unless a mistake was made will always work;
  • HTML files are small by nature and generally load quickly (always faster than PDF).

The only thing PDF has going for it is that the files are already being made for printing. Of course, as mentioned, these files are often too large and it takes skill to figure out how to downsize them to work for the web.

It is pretty clear that the readers want HTML given the billions of pages that make up the web that are HTML. We do offer our publishers (and art directors) the option to put the PDF version online but studies show that the vast majority of readers may click the first page once but they never come back to the PDF and go on their way reading the HTML versions of the stories.

Again Poynter points out that "Nobody Wants the PDF Paper".


Just because ancient monasteries produced their manuscripts in one particular way, doesn't mean that is how things must be done in the future. Some publishers and many art directors love PDF online but very, very few readers care. On the other hand, the cost of putting PDF online is low but just don't expect much from it.