Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Word versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Word 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Word, click here: Getting Rid of Choppiness in Justified Text.

Getting Rid of Choppiness in Justified Text

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated October 3, 2015)

Depending on the characteristics of the text in your document, you might notice that justifying a paragraph (Format | Paragraph | Alignment: Justified) may not produce the best looking results. This is because when you choose to justify a paragraph, Word expands the text on each line by adding space between words and letters. This may not always give the best-looking results, and you may need to make adjustments to get better-looking text.

There are many options you can try, and you should become familiar with all of them so that you can try them out on your text. The first guideline is to check your text; there may be some things you can do to it that will allow cleaner flowing through a paragraph:

  • Be sure you have no unnecessary hard spaces or hard hyphens (search and replace ^s with regular space, ^~ with regular hyphen). These force Word to treat adjacent words as a single item, thereby forcing awkward end-of-line adjustments.
  • Turning on hyphenation or doing manual hyphenation on offending lines similarly reduces the risk of awkward line breaks.
  • Select a font size suited to the line length, or vice versa. Large fonts need longer lines to maintain smooth spacing; smaller fonts can afford shorter lines.

With your text in shape, you can then begin actual formatting. One approach is to choose Format | Font | Character Spacing tab and set the Scale control to 95%. If that does not provide better spacing, scale it down to 90%. These adjustments are typically so slight (particularly with commonly used font sizes for body text) that readers won't notice, but the effect on text flow could be dramatic—particularly in long paragraphs.

Perhaps the best solution, however, is to completely change the algorithm that Word uses to justify text. Many people prefer the algorithm used in WordPerfect, so Microsoft added the ability to emulate that justification method—resulting in much less choppiness. You can adjust the setting by following these steps:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu. Word displays the Options dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Compatibility tab is selected. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Compatibility tab of the Options dialog box.

  4. In the list of compatibility options, choose the Do Full Justification like WordPerfect 6.x for Windows option.
  5. If you want to make this setting the default for your system, click the Default button.
  6. Click OK to close the Options dialog box.

This will change the way justification is handled, but only for the current document. If you clicked the Default button, then the change is made in the Normal.dot template, provided you choose to save changes to the template when you exit Word. With the change made in the template, then all future documents based on Normal.dot will use the different justification algorithm. If you want to make the same change in other templates or other documents, you will need to load them and make the adjustment. If you have many documents that you might need to change (or if you routinely work with documents from others that you need to change), then you can create a macro that will modify the justification setting:

Sub ChangeJustification()
    With ActiveDocument
        .Compatibility(wdWPJustification) = True
    End With
End Sub

WordTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Word training. (Microsoft Word is the most popular word processing software in the world.) This tip (233) applies to Microsoft Word 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Word (Word 2007 and later) here: Getting Rid of Choppiness in Justified Text.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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