Ragged-Right Style

An e-mail exchange from April 2000 with the editor of the Chicago Manual of Style.

: MLA 6.57 (Ragged-Right Style) refers to a minimum line length, which ensures that long words will be broken, whereas short ones need not be. In computer technology I believe this is known as the “hyphenation zone,” or the distance from the end of the line within which the pro-gram divides words; changing the size of the zone affects how often words are divided.

Since MLA does not specify this length (and thus conceivably does not have a recommendation, what length does the University of Chicago Press use in its publications? (Microsoft Word has a default length of .25.)

A: MLA does not specify things like minimum line length because there is no standard line length for us to base it on. Trim size varies from book to book, as well as margin width, font size, etc., and as a result line length is different for each. These are all aesthetic judgments, as well as practical ones, and we leave them to the designer. Nonetheless, see 6.58.

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