Should text be left-aligned or left-justified in a novel?

Text in a novel should be left-justified, not left-aligned.

There are different ways of aligning paragraph text. The default in programs like Microsoft Word and online is left-aligned. This is where the left-hand sides of each line of text line up vertically, but the right-hand sides don’t. It’s how this paragraph you’re reading now is formatted.

There’s also right-aligned, which is where the right-hand sides of each line of text line up vertically, but the left-hand sides don’t. And there’s centre-aligned, which is where the centre of each line of text is lined up vertically, and neither the left nor right hand sides line up.

Justified text is where both the left and right hand sides of each line of text (except the last one) line up. This is achieved by slightly adjusting the sizes of the spaces on each line until the words line up. Left-justified text is this, and where the last line of text (which may not be long enough to stretch across the whole paragraph without looking a bit odd) is left-aligned. (There’s also centre-justified and right-justified, but these are rarely used – we don’t need to consider them here.)

Much of the text we see every day is left-aligned. Online, it’s by far the most common alignment. It’s also the default in programs like Microsoft Word. Because of this, justified text can look a bit weird to people who aren’t used to it.

In book formatting, the convention is to always use justified text (in books like novels, at least). While it might look a bit weird at first, after a while you’ll be able to appreciate its aesthetic qualities.

← Writing FAQs