Clear thinking

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Bid Proposals | Justified vs. left aligned text

 January 12, 2016
by Paul Heron

Many teams set up their proposal templates using justified (also called fully justified) text. When we ask why, bid managers tell us it makes their proposals “look more professional.”

NOTE: For non-typographers, “justified” means the right hand edge of the text is vertically aligned, just like the left edge. The usual alternative is left aligned, which allows for variable line lengths on the right edge of the text block. This blog post is left aligned.

Every word processing program today can produce justified copy. But the fact it’s available doesn’t make it a good choice.

Justified text can save space

Justified text is more compact than left-aligned, text. This is one reason some book, newspaper and magazine designers use it. But the space saved is minimal, compared to the drawbacks of justified text.

Issues with justified text

  • Word spacing: Because standard word processors mono-space letters within words, they achieve justification by adjusting word space. That’s why word processor justified type often contains “rivers” of white space (see sample copy below) in narrow columns, especially if the text contains long words. Granted, these can be partially resolved with hyphenation and tweaking—but we’ve never seen a team that has the time. Left aligned text doesn’t have to deal with this issue.

  • Messaging Impact: Every aspect of your proposal sends a message to the evaluators. The expert consensus on justified text is that it appears more formal than flush left text. Formal can mean professional—but it can also mean inflexible and unfriendly. At the proposal stage, you’re producing a sales document. It needs to look professional, but it's equally important to look approachable, friendly and flexible.

Complex2Clear’s advice

If you must use justified text, and you don’t have access to specialized publishing software, such as InDesign, do the following:

  • Avoid two-column layouts. Instead, set your body copy as a single column, to minimize the word spacing issue described above. Word processors do a fairly good job of setting 10-12 point type across 6 or 7 inches. If your column contains 40 or more characters of type, space lines at 1.15 or 1.2 for easier reading.
  • Use left aligned type in tables and other situations that require narrow columns.
  • Use left aligned type for heads, subheads, call-outs and captions.

Our preference: If you have the option, reserve justified text for drafting contracts after you’ve won the business. Stick to left aligned for your proposals.


Need help with proposal design

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 






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