In typography, there is a common debate over which is better: justified or right-ragged paragraphs. There is some research into the matter. Some say that right-ragged is easier to read because spacing between words is consistent and makes it easier for the reader to focus. Word spacing can be a problem with justified test. Sometimes, you’ll have the awkward gigantic space between two words because you could not hyphenate one in a way to reduce the spacing. No one wants big gaps in their reading–it is very distracting. On the other hand, there are beautiful examples of clean block text where hyphens are placed appropriately and word spacing is nearly identical. How does one make beauty practical in typography?
Let’s start with defining a pica. A pica is a unit of measurement used in typography. It is similar to a pixel but is equal to 1/6 of an inch. The pica contains 12 point units of measure. Who cares? With metric, imperial, pixel, and now typography measuring sets, how a unit is measured can seem irrelevant and useless in life. You might think, I’m happy with my centimeters so leave the rest out of my life. Here’s why you need to care about picas in typesetting.
If you take unformatted text and set it to be flush left, the text will be ragged right. There will be a visual messed up staircase on the righthand side of the paragraph. Now, adjust the line measure half-a-pica at a time until each line is almost flush right. You will need to hyphenate words to reach the “sweet spot” of word spacing. For problematic words, try using a shorter or longer word to reach as close to flush-right as you can. When you think it’s as close as possible, set the paragraph to be justified. Justification will adjust things slightly, so your paragraph may end up a line longer.
Congratulations, you now have non-distracting justified text that looks beautiful and is likely just as functional as that ragged-right you started off with. You can thank the picas for that.
Melanie E Magdalena