Paragraph Justification in Word 2016

In every version of MS Word that I’ve ever used, one’s choice of how to justify a paragraph (left, center, right, full) only affects the horizontal position of each word within a line. It has never affected which line a word would appear on.

In other words: If a paragraph is several lines long, the same words would appear on each line no matter how it is justified. If I want the paragraph to be fewer lines or more lines, I need to change something about the text (like adding some spaces or hyphenating a word) but simply changing the justification will not affect it. Each line gets however many words will fit, given the constraints of the font and margins etc., but justification has nothing to do with deciding which words will fit in a given space.

Until now. With Word 2016, I cannot trust the formatting. This is NOT to say that I don’t like the results that Word gives me, but rather that I am no longer in control of what happens. (I noticed something similar in other parts of Word 2016, but this case is easier to demonstrate.)

Trying to research this problem, I found this YouTube video which teaches how to use paragraph justification. Please note what happens at 2:26 on this video. The only thing the teacher did was to change the justification from Left to Full, but for some reason, this caused the word “San” to move from the beginning of line 3 to the end of line 2. A side-effect is that the extra space on line 3, which resulted from the loss of the word “San”, makes it possible for “modern-” to move up from line 4 to line 3; but that is totally logical and would have happened in previous versions of Word.

What I can’t figure out is this: Why is it that with left-justification, the second line did not have enough space for “San”, but with full justification there is enough space?

(Here’s why this problem is so important to me: I produce a publication where everything is full-justified, and I need to fit all the articles in a fixed amount of space. Often, an article is using too many lines, and here is one of my tricks for condensing it: I look for a paragraph that has only one word on its last line. Sometimes, there is a word in that paragraph which is at the beginning of a line, and if I hyphenate it, then the beginning of that word will go to the previous line, and lots of stuff will move upward (like “modern” in that video) and my paragraph will now be one line shorter than it was before. This procedure gets a lot easier if I temporarily make the paragraph left-justified, because that reveals which lines have less space between the words. But now, with Word 2016, I can’t trust anything because I don’t know how justification works any more.)

If anyone can explain what Word 2016 is doing, I’d really appreciate it. Bonus: If anyone knows of a place that shows these sort of changes between versions of Word, that would be great. The YouTube link above is a great example of something that claims to teach Word 2016, but is in reality relevant to ANY version of Word. What I want is a “Here’s what’s new!” tutorial.

Guess pulled out of my left elbow, or rather, from the space bar of my old Olivetti typewriter.

True: in a centered, right or left justification, the spaces have a fixed width. Full justification is the only case in which they have variable width.

Guess: the full-justification algorithm can make the spaces narrower than the default, not only wider, and this allows the occasional small word to move lines. It is possible that with fixed-width spaces there would have been enough space for “Sa” to fit in one line, but not for “San”, and then by making some space a little bit narrower there was enough room for the whole word. Sometimes we’d pull this trick back when typewriters were mechanical, if doing so turned a horrible-looking line into a normal-looking one.

Yeah, but the same lines would look terrible regardless of justification. The difference would be that with full justification there’s wide gaps between the words, and with the other justifications the line is noticeably narrower than the others. Either way, it’s an ugly line. Thus, the algorithm you suggest would be used all the time, not for full-justification alone.

Or at least, that’s what makes sense to me. If the programmers at Microsoft have another explanation, I’d love to hear it.

Another approach is what I will call full paragraph composition. In the old days of hot metal only one line of type was composed and once completed that was it. These days the composition algorithms can compose full paragraphs and look for a best fit or, to use a printing term, best color appearance.

Both approaches have their merits but I tend to go with paragraph composition because the color is usually better. In your case the color takes a back seat to fit.

I don’t know Word at all but if paragraph versus single line composition is an option you can probably turn paragraph composition off in favor of a line compositor.

I’m not sure if I don’t understand you or didn’t explain myself clearly enough.

Full justification does not necessarily involve wide gaps between the words. It can involve making some gaps wider, but as I explained also smaller.

But the unjustified lines always do have gaps the same width. They do not adjust width at all; there is no attempt made to adjust width. An unjustified line is the same width if it’s placed center, left or right; a justified line has a different width from the other three.

It’s like the difference between types with variable-width letters and those with fixed-width letters… a variable-width type doesn’t only have a symbol for “m” that’s wider than those for “n” or “o”, but also a symbol for “i” which is narrower.

I do accept the idea that there is a sophisticated piece of software making these decisions. What I don’t like is that I cannot predict the results, and the software does not inform me about how it decided to do what it did.

For example: Suppose I have a whatever-justified paragraph that looks fine. But when I change the justification, the software realizes that the result would place a totally ugly river right down the middle of the page. I would not be at all surprised if it could already do that, and there’s a programmer somewhere who is pretty proud of the code that says “Widen this blank space just a little bit and the river goes away.” But I’d be frustrated that the software did something unexpected.

Could be the soft hyphen in “modern-designed” further down in the paragraph. Word might be seeing room for that as a line break when it didn’t before. I haven’t figured out how this causes “San” to move though.