Text Justification on Legal Websites
Lawyers tend to love justification of text. Simply explained, full justification is a type of formatting which adds spacing between words (and even within words) so that the text fills the entire line, creating a clean left and right edge to any block of text. Since full text justification is common in pleadings and briefs, it should come as no surprise then that many of the law firms that we work with ask us to justify the text on their website. While it may be common in some legal briefs and memorandums, text justification should be avoided at all costs on your law firm’s website.
Text justification does not work well on web pages for two main reasons- 1.) the way we actually read text when we’re viewing it on screen, and 2.) the way browsers handle text justification.
Text is more difficult to read on screen than it is in hard print because of differences in monitor resolution. Furthermore, even though it is not obvious to most internet users, the image on the screen is not totally static; in fact, it is constantly being refreshed. Different types of formatting that include inconsistent spacing may make it difficult to read words, phrases and paragraphs.
Internet browsers such as Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari are not very good at handling justification and displaying justified text (and each browser’s display may differ), and your website visitor is likely to be presented with text and spaces between words which varies a great deal. In printed text, justification tends to result in a more subtle variation in spacing. The extreme variation in the spacing online makes the text more difficult to read – instead of the eye being able to move smoothly from one word to the next, it has to move in “fits and starts,” searching for and jumping to the start of each word.
While someone with no vision issues or reading difficulties might find this to be a slight annoyance, it can present a significant problem to anyone using screen magnification software (since the gaps between words are also magnified), and to people with reading disabilities such as dyslexia. Some people with cognitive disabilities find that the “rivers” of white space which can easily occur within justified passages of text on screen form a more distinct pattern than the actual words themselves, making the text extremely difficult to read and comprehend.
You would be hard pressed to find a major website that utilizes full text justification because of the usability issues it raises. The New York Times, CNN and the website for the Supreme Court of the United States are perfect examples. So while the edges of your text blocks may not be perfectly neat, avoiding justification will ensure that all website visitors able to read and comprehend the information on your site. If you have questions about best practices for usability, please contact our team of experts.