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Text Hyphenation

| December 9, 2013 | 7 Comments

Hyphenation is a process of dividing the words at the end of the line of the text. It is symbolized by hyphen mark which is dividing the words by syllables. It is often adjusted together with justification settings and good setup of both settings should result in good flow and easily readable body text. 

This post will focus on hyphenation of body copy but we will discuss other uses of hyphenation and we will also tell you when not to use hyphenation.

Hyphenation can be adjusted in two ways. Manually and automatically. As with all text adjustments that are done for the whole magazine I suggest to adjust the hyphenation settings in the paragraph style palette. Of course to achieve the best results you should select the appropriate dictionary from the language list in Advanced Character Formats in Paragraph Style options.

First let’s go through the automatic hyphenation settings.


Hyphenation settings

Hyphenation settings

Automatic text hyphenation

InDesign hyphenate option has several options:

  • Words With At Least X Letters Specifies the minimum number of characters for hyphenated words. The minimum should be 5, meaning the words with less than 5 characters won’t be hyphenated.
  • After First X Letters / Before Last X Letters This option Specifies the minimum number of characters at the beginning or end of a word that can be broken by a hyphen. For the first letters, value should be 2 and for the last letters, value should be 2. With this settings the word will be hyphenated only after first 2 letters and before last 2 letters.
  • Hyphen Limit X Hyphens Specify the maximum number of hyphens that can appear on consecutive lines. Zero means unlimited hyphens. Here the value should be 3. This means that the maximum of three consecutive lines of text will be hyphenated. More would be a big mistake resulting in much harder text readability and this is bad typesetting.
  • Hyphenation Zone Specify the amount of white space allowed at the end of a line of unjustified text before hyphenation begins. This option applies only when you’re using the Single-line Composer with non-justified text.
  • Better Spacing / Fewer Hyphens To alter the balance between these settings, adjust the slider at the bottom of the dialog box. Here you can move the slider to the second tick on the right for fewer hyphens. Don’t worry about bad spacing since you will adjust the spacing in the justification settings. In this way you get the best of both options. Properly justified text with few hyphens.
  • Hyphenate Capitalized Words To prevent capitalized words from being hyphenated, deselect this option. Try to avoid this. Capitalized words that are hyphenated don’t look nice.
  • Hyphenate Last Word To prevent last words in paragraphs from being hyphenated, deselect this option. This option should be avoided also since it will result in orphaned text which you will have to adjust manually.
  • Hyphenate Across Column To prevent words from being hyphenated across a column, frame, or page, deselect this option. Another option that should be avoided. Imagine that you hyphenate the word that is crossing from one column to another and those columns are crossing pages also. Not good, right! This is bad type setting and should be avoided.


Manual text hyphenation

From time to time you will have to manually hyphenate the text. You can do this in two ways.
First, using the Type tool, click where you want to insert the hyphen.

Then do one of the following:
Choose Type > Insert Special Character > Hyphens And Dashes > Discretionary Hyphen.
Press Ctrl+Shift+- (Windows) or Command+Shift+- (Mac OS) to insert a discretionary hyphen.

It must be noted that by entering a discretionary hyphen in a word does not guarantee that the word will be hyphenated. Whether or not the word breaks depends on other hyphenation and composition settings. However, entering a discretionary hyphen in a word does guarantee that the word can be broken only where the discretionary hyphen appears.


When not to hyphen?

Sometimes there are text elements that you do not want to hyphen. Elements like headlines, subheads, pull quotes and intro/kickers should not be hyphenated. These are basically short text elements and there is not advantage in hyphenating them. Besides it would not look nice if you hyphenate the subheads. Or even worse, headlines.
For other elements like picture captions hyphenations should be turned off also. Only if there is one word that is too long for the desired space width you can hyphenate only that picture caption.


When not to hyphenate?

When not to hyphenate? Bottom examples look and read better than the top ones.


Text that is justified in center should not be hyphenated, unless it is really necessary. Centered text should be used for short blocks of text and it does not have to be hyphenated. Instead it should be divided in lines by sense with soft returns. Text that is aligned right also does not look nice when hyphenated.


Hyphenation story option

Hyphenation story option


There is one option that I have seen in many tutorials online where authors advise you to use it. This option is Story (Type > Story). I advise you not to use it. What it does is it aligns the letters and moves hyphen dashes out to the right of the imaginary vertical column line. I think it is unnecessary to use it.

Hyphenation is the option which will make your text more readable and if adjusted right in conjunction with the justification setting your text will look tidier without those ugly white spaces between the words.

This post concludes the topic of text formating. Other posts on the topic of text formatting talk about justification, kerning and tracking.

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Category: Typography

Comments (7)

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  1. Jon says:

    Most of this is excellent information! I love this site. But as someone who’s worked in magazine design for 20 years, I’d have to take exception to a few of these “rules.” They may be common presets in modern design software, but they’re not necessarily rules of correct hyphenation, as they used to be taught to typesetters. Every major consumer magazine I’ve subscribed to (eg., National Geographic, Scientific American, Sunset, to name a few) breaks them… hyphenated capitalized words, last words, words across columns, and even across pages are rampant. In most cases these don’t break the reader’s flow in any way, and are only ever noticed by over-zealous editors who imagine these to be important rules of typesetting. Readability should be the first priority, not a set of tidy “rules” that don’t really effect the end user.

    • Nikola says:

      Jon I have to agree with you about the “rules”. No one can follow all of them and they are there to be broken when needed. But it is good to know them before you are able to break them.
      If National Geographic does these kind of things it does not mean they are right. Hyphenating last word in a paragraph, words across columns and pages is not a good typesetting and I think it should be avoided. Especially today when you can do it with few mouse clicks.

      • Matt Smith says:

        Yes I agree Nikola. It’s not like National Geographic is the pinnacle of magazine design!

        I do see what you are saying Jon but you have to agree that hyphenating words across columns and pages does interrupt the flow of reading. I think it’s important to teach these ‘guidelines’ (maybe a better word than rules) of typography as without them could you imaging the standard type of formatting we would see?

        • Nikola says:

          Guidelines! Yes Matt, that’s the right word! Thank you.
          Regarding NG design! It is really good and what’s more important it is appropriate for the topic of the magazine.

  2. Goran says:

    Hello everyone.

    How about the word which is last in a sentence and NOT last in a paragraph, is there some recommendation should those be hyphened or not?

    • Nikola says:

      If it’s last word in a sentence and after the full stop another sentence starts, then I do not see a reason why you should not hyphenate it!

  3. Nikola says:

    Thank you for the kind words and your point of view.
    I am always glad to hear about other opinions and experiences.
    I did not say it is wrong to use it, but I do think it is unnecessary. From my experience I think that the difference is visually almost unnoticeable.

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