W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > www-style@w3.org > December 2012

Re: CSS needs improvements for handling sentence spacing

From: Thomas A. Fine <fine@head.cfa.harvard.edu>
Date: Thu, 20 Dec 2012 19:34:08 -0500
Message-ID: <50D3AE80.2040704@head.cfa.harvard.edu>
To: www-style@gtalbot.org
CC: www-style mailing list <www-style@w3.org>
This is all a bit off-topic, nevertheless, I'll bite...

On 12/20/12 4:44 PM, "Gérard Talbot" wrote:
 > You are pinpointing precisely why experts in legibility do *not* 
recommend
 > justified text. Left-aligned text is recommended and has been around for
 > over one hundred thousands years (100,000), even in
 > Cromagnon/Neanderthalian caves, on pyramid walls, etc.

Yes but in typesetting/typography since 1450, justified text has always 
been the standard.  For example, see pretty much the entire body of 
press-printed text in existence prior to computers.

But the primary argument here is that HTML/CSS standards should not take 
sides on issues like this one.

 > Speed reading and text skimmability/eye scannability is most efficient
 > with left-aligned text and *not* with justified text.

I can point to flaws in the studies and to other studies that in fact 
demonstrate that properly justified text is the most efficient.  I can 
tell you that the majority of the studies out there focus solely on 
poorly justified text (that is, text that is word-spaced only).

And again, it isn't really the place for HTML/CSS standards to make this 
decision.

 > (...) justified text blocks often suffer from poor spacing and excessive
 > hyphenation and require manual refinement.
 > This level of control is not even a remote possibility on web pages.
 > Modern browsers support justified text, but it is achieved by crude
 > adjustments to word spacing.

Have you looked at the text-justify parameter?  It's already there. 
Granted, implementations are lacking, but someone has already gone to 
the trouble of putting this in the standard.

As far as the level of control, this is the computer age, we can 
automate things that used to be done by hand.  I can write you  software 
that will justify by altering both word and letter spacing, and taking 
into account alignments of space between lines (rivers), and adjust the 
balance of spacing in adjacent lines to avoid rivers.  In short, 
professional looking justified text is fairly simple to automate.

And given that CSS already supports multiple justification methods, it's 
hardly reasonable to say that we should fix things if they are broken 
with respect to fully justified text.  It's already supported.  The 
decision has been made.

 > (...)
 > For the foreseeable future, the legibility of your web documents will
 > suffer if you set your text justified.
 > (...)
 > Left-justified text is the most legible option for web pages(...)
 > "
 >
 > Web Style Guide 3rd edition, chapter 8 Typography: Legibility
 > http://webstyleguide.com/wsg3/8-typography/3-legibility.html

Yes, this I agree with to some degree.  When inadequate technology is 
used to accomplish justification, the results are sub-optimal.  Isn't 
this a reason to improve the technology, rather than abandon it?

In fact, in my opinion, the Linotype's lack of ability to easily perform 
letter spacing while justifying is the primary reason that wide sentence 
spacing was eventually abandoned in printed text, and acceptance of that 
practice has lead to it's exclusion in web technologies.

       tom
Received on Friday, 21 December 2012 00:34:41 GMT

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