This post, which originally appeared on the blog February 16, 2017, has been updated in October of 2023 and is the first reconfigured old post.
In web design circles, you hear the term “accessibility” thrown around quite a bit. I think this is a great thing. When we inspect our sites to see if they meet accessibility criteria, however, we tend to ignore text alignment.
Important note: This information does not apply only to websites. Those who create emails, newsletters, flyers, or anything with paragraphs of information should also take heed.
Text Alignment and the Brain
I realize that most people don’t give text alignment a second thought, especially on the web, but it makes a difference. As a former educator, I know that the way text appears can affect the readability of the text for those with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. When I had a job training teachers in technology, I had training in creating audience-friendly presentation slides. In that class, I learned that text alignment makes a difference. When paragraphs and other long bits of information appear completely centered, the brain finds it more difficult to process. Many think that centering all their text is more “artsy” or “edgy”, but it actually makes the brain work harder to process what it’s reading.
We learn to read left to right and encounter text laid out that way from an early age. When each line of text starts in a consistent spot, our brains don’t have to work as hard to process the information.
When writers completely center entire paragraphs, however, our eyes have to search for the beginning of each line, causing the brain to process the information in a more disjointed way. Our brains finds this unnatural and defiant of how we are taught as children. To see what I mean, check out this article on Why You Should Never Center Align Paragraph Text. There’s an example of centered text versus left aligned text and which is easier to read.
When Should I Center Text?
When considering the text alignment for your web page content (or for email newsletters, flyers, and anything else with paragraphs of information) reserve centered text for certain situations:
- Headers – Centering a topic header or headline will set it apart from the rest of the content. Other options for headers include different font sizes and weights.
- Emphasis – To emphasize a point, date, deadline, etc., go ahead and center it. As with headers, it sets the information apart and draws the reader’s eye. If everything shows centered, nothing stands apart and it all runs together.
- Quotes – If you have a short (about one sentence) quote that doesn’t take up too many lines, centering it would work, especially if you don’t overuse it. Having five centered quotes on a page, for example, may go a little to far. Construct longer quotes in paragraph form and left justified, but indent them to set them apart. You could indent the entire paragraph (like these bullet points) so the brain still processes the information easily.
To make your website easier for the visually impaired or for those with reading disabilities, text alignment makes a difference. So take a look at your blog, website, or email newsletter and adjust the text alignment. In the meantime, keep swimming along!