Why You Should Never Center Align Paragraph Text

by on 01/19/11 at 2:28 pm

Text is a beautiful thing. It not only has function, but form as well. When you’re creating text, it’s likely that you’re not only thinking about what your text should say, but how it should look. On the web, centered and left aligned text are the most widely used text alignments. How you use these text alignments can either help or harm your users when they read.

Left aligned text is easier to read than centered text for paragraphs. This is because when you center your text, the starting place of each line changes. This forces your users to work harder to find where each line begins to continue reading. Without a straight left edge, there is no consistent place where users can move their eyes to when they complete each line.

However, when your paragraph text is left aligned, a straight left edge appears. Users can read each line by simply moving their eyes to the left edge each time. This makes your paragraphs faster and easier to read because the user’s eyes don’t have to work as hard to find where the line starts each time.

Centered text is best used for headlines and short lines of text. Users can read them with ease because the lines are short, scannable and don’t need repeated eye movements. They can also give your layout a balanced look with its symmetrical format.

One other mistake you should never make is to combine centered text with left aligned text. For example, a centered headline should not go with a left aligned paragraph. This is because the unsymmetrical line lengths of the paragraph can give the headline the appearance that it’s slightly off-center.

You also lose the symmetrical appearance of your paragraph. Centered headlines should go with centered text. Left aligned headlines should go with left aligned text. Avoid mixing the two together so that your text doesn’t look unbalanced.

Following these guidelines will help make your text look appealing and easy to read. What your text says to users is important. But how your text looks can affect them too.


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25 Responses to “Why You Should Never Center Align Paragraph Text”

  1. Mary Specht

    Jan 20th, 2011

    Good points. Your advice may seem basic, but it’s much-needed. I encountered an otherwise wonderful blog recently that center-aligns its text. Yes, the text of the entire blog post: http://thefuturewell.com. It really gets me.

  2. Web Developer

    Jan 20th, 2011

    What about using centered text with left aligned + justified text? That would resolve the issue of the headline looking slightly off-center.

    • anthony

      Jan 22nd, 2011

      Justified text would resolve the off-center issue, but it would present another issue, rivers of uneven spacing between letters and words. Try it and you’ll see.

      There’s no need to be clever here. Centered headings should go with centered text and left aligned headings should go with left aligned text. It’s very simple.

      • Rudolf

        Jun 4th, 2011

        So, when should justified text be used?

      • Denny

        Mar 4th, 2015

        Thanks for the articles and comments. Commonly what you were saying is correct. left alugned. but based on the designs and devices it will be changed.. depend on the layout. We can’t predict all texts must be in left aligned..etc..

  3. Joseph Price

    Jan 20th, 2011

    To add to the mix, it’s better to not fullly justify text as well. It can be especially confusing for dyslexic users.

    • anthony

      Jan 22nd, 2011

      Good point Joseph. Dyslexic users see text differently than us. I’ll write a post about this.

  4. IvarTJ

    Jan 21st, 2011

    It seems I have to reconsider the alignment of the headers on my website.

  5. Canivet Laurent

    Jan 25th, 2011

    Nice article.

  6. Mayur Chaudhary

    Jan 26th, 2011

    NIcely explained but i am surprise that “centered” align is one of the most widely used text alignment.

  7. Donna

    Mar 23rd, 2011

    I wholeheartedly agree that people should be using left-alignment when it comes to content when possible!

  8. Jatin

    Apr 22nd, 2011

    Nice article, thanks.

  9. ddd.ttt

    Sep 14th, 2011

    what do you mean by “text is a beautiful thing”. “it not only has function…” what do you mean by function?

    • anthony

      Sep 14th, 2011

      Its function is delivering the message. Its form is how it delivers the message.

    • Shayne O

      May 22nd, 2016

      French Philosopher Roland Barthes once wrote that he sought to learn how to write perfect Japanese without understanding it, so he could enjoy the beautiful pure form of Japanese poetry without having to worry about whether he understood the meaning.

      It is, however impossible. All text has meaning, even if sometimes its meaning refers only to other text. And that, my friend, is the function.

  10. Andrew

    Oct 13th, 2011

    I agree i think we need to make things a lot easy for people to read. i think now-a-days with shorter attention spans, you have to make things bigger simpler and as easy to read as possible. People with be quick to tune off and leave a web page if they can’t figure it out what its about in the first few seconds.

  11. Barbara

    Nov 15th, 2011

    It not only is harder to read, but I often can’t see the text properly. There is a name for the limited dyslexia I have, but I am about ready to get a ADA reasonable accomodation so that people will stop centering text I have to read. Especially when I get it in a medium I can’t reformat, such as hard-copy. And numbers that are centered are worse. As a CPA, I have to review schedules all the time and I need to be able to see the magnitude of a number. That’s a lot more challenging when the decimals are not aligned.

    It seems to me that people center everything because they can. Excel knows the proper alignment for most types of data. But people LOVE that little “center” icon.

  12. Maddison

    Jan 11th, 2013

    Just found this! Thanks so much, I’m a common abuser of the center align button, and I’ve just now realized how annoying it must be to people when they are reading my work! Thank you so much again! :)

  13. TK

    Jan 20th, 2013

    The only practical use I could see for center-aligned text is if it were center justified text as found in InDesign and other creative design applications. This can be simulated by generating a margin on both sides of a paragraph with justify margins on the web world.

    Oh, and being dyslexic, I prefer justified text if that helps the discussion at all.

  14. Dan

    Feb 1st, 2014

    Too bad APA doesn’t see it that way.

  15. Dmitry

    Apr 3rd, 2014

    Good points. Could never explain why centering block paragraphs was a bad idea besides the fact that it looks awkward. The idea that the reader has to relocate the starting point with every proceeding line, which takes more effort to do, makes a lot of sense.

  16. Jules

    Feb 2nd, 2017

    You said not to mix center align with left align. Interesting. How come the header of this article (on mobile) is centered aligned and the body is left aligned?

    • anthony

      Feb 3rd, 2017

      Because my header is in its own self-contained box that disconnects it from the body, as opposed to a header directly above the body seen in the example. These are guidelines, not hard fast rules.

  17. Plagiarism Avenger

    May 28th, 2017

    Some people say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; on the other hand, using someone else’s content outside of “fair use” for critical purposes without acknowledgement is not only the epitome of laziness, it’s also plagiarism. Your content has been plagiarised: http://ambrosedesigns.co.uk/aligning-text/

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