What Does Justify Margins Mean in Microsoft?

by Filonia LeChat
Arabic and Hebrew text are traditionally right justified.

Arabic and Hebrew text are traditionally right justified.

If you routinely open Microsoft Office and begin typing, it may not occur to you to play with how your text appears on the page. That’s because the Office Suite sets sensible defaults for you, but margin justification isn’t set in stone. You may find it beneficial to vary from the default setup that Microsoft provides you with or you may determine that sticking to the straight, narrow and not-so-jagged is the way to go.


Justifying in margins has to do with where the text is aligned. Justification refers to whether the rows of text on a page appear straight up and down in line with the margin or show a ragged edge. Margin justification works in Microsoft Office programs the same way it does with other printed and on-screen text, but it’s much easier to justify margins in an Office program than it is using a typewriter for example.


By default, Microsoft Office programs set a left justification. Text is aligned with the left column of the page, with the exception of items such as headers or tab stops. Left-margin justification produces a ragged right edge. Due to word wrap, not all of the text that runs to the right margin has an even edge. Right-margin justification is the opposite, and far less common when writing in English. The right sides of the text blocks are straight and even with the right side margin and their sentences stretch across the page unevenly toward the left margin. The third type of justification is sometimes called full justification or simply “Justify” in Office. This produces even, straight ends on both sides of the margins, so the text looks like a neat block, as is commonly seen in printed books. There are no ragged edges with the exception of the first line, which may have a tab, and the last line which may not be long enough to stretch across.


When you open a Microsoft program and begin typing, text always aligns with the left margin, whether you’re working in an Excel spreadsheet, a Word document or a Publisher project. Justification is changeable, though, at any time. You’ll find the justification buttons on the Home tab, in the Paragraph section of the ribbon. The buttons, called “Align Text Left,” “Align Text Right” and “Justify” look like small lined columns. If you click a button while your cursor is on a paragraph, it changes that entire paragraph’s justification – you do not have to highlight all of the lines in the paragraph. To change the margin justification on an entire document, use the ribbon’s “Select All” option or pick and choose your highlight.


The main consideration when setting margin justification is whether going against the norm makes your document more difficult to read. While right justification may look poetic and even be an ideal choice when typing something decorative, it simply makes the traditional left-to-right style of reading people are used to more difficult. Another potential pitfall exists with full justification. Although it makes your text look neat and even, it creates a typographical issue called a river. Rivers are small areas of white that occur when Microsoft attempts to stretch your lines to fit both margins. If you picture opening a small spout of water at the top of your paragraph, the white areas are where the “river” would trickle through. Too much white can be distracting and interrupt your reader.

About the Author

Fionia LeChat is a technical writer whose major skill sets include the MS Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Publisher), Photoshop, Paint, desktop publishing, design and graphics. LeChat has a Master of Science in technical writing, a Master of Arts in public relations and communications and a Bachelor of Arts in writing/English.

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