Layout issues in HCSB

As I have used HCSB for personal devotions and our congregation is using it in the bulletin for Sunday readings, it has proven to be an acceptable translation. However, I have been disappointed with the layout issue in poetry.

It seems that there are really two problems. 1) with a double column format, the width of the columns is necessarily small. Thus, not many words can be put on the same line. Obviously typeface choice, size, and weight of the fonts make a difference. It would seem that especially in poetry sections, a single column format would be better.

2) The second problem is actually more troublesome. Indentation in HCSB is inconsistent and does not help the reader understand the text or even read the text. Here is a sample from Zechariah 10:6-7.

Zechariah 10:6-7 HCSB
Zechariah 10:6-7 HCSB

Notice that the entire v. 6 and the first two lines of vs. 7 are all left aligned, with no indentation. The double column format does not help at all in this case. Also, the lines are very inconsistent with regard to length. That combination leaves the reader with no visual clue as to the relationship between the main verbs/nouns and subordinate thoughts.

For instance, in v. 6 what is the relationship (and emphasis) between strengthen, deliver, restore, have compassion? Visually there is no clue. In v. 7, would it not make more sense in the second and third lines to read like this?

and their hearts will be glad

as if with wine.

I have found that such a layout and formatting issue makes for much harder oral reading. But even in devotional reading I find it tiring; I have to go back and reread the text to see if I understand the thought pattern and structure.


I would strongly recommend that the HCSB and editorial staff look again at this problem of double column format and especially line indentation and relationship of patterns of thought. At best it can lead to confusion, at worst it can lead to a wrong “reading” with wrong emphasis because there are no clues how to relate that.

(I should note that other double column translations do not have as much of a problem because they employ indentation and better line breaks.)


Author: exegete77

disciple of Jesus Christ, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, teacher, and theologian

6 thoughts on “Layout issues in HCSB”

  1. Ugh…that is some wicked formatting! Comparing a 2010 UltraThin (the same formatting as above) with a 2012 UltraThin shows quite a difference in the formatting of this passage–and throughout OT poetry in general. Though the indentation is done better in the newer version, the line breaks still happen at the same places, which as you point out, can really obscure the parallelism inherent in Hebrew poetry.

    Ironically, one of the special ‘features’ of the new typesetting is the “special attention has been given to break every line in poetry and dynamic prose so that awkward or unsightly word wraps are avoided and complete units of thought turn over to the next line.” They didn’t quite succeed at the latter.

    Since I’ve praised it here before, the single column Minister’s Bible has NO indentations at all in the poetry sections. Yuck.


    1. I’m glad you pointed out the Minister’s Bible with single column is even worse in terms of indentation. That is really disappointing.

      The more I have used HCSB in the poetry sections, the less I like it. Very straining exercise.


  2. It is a pity that such a great translation as the HCSB has few high-quality layouts/printings and bindings. I just ordered the HCSB Mission of God Study Bible, which appears to be one of the exceptions. Customer-posted photos at the link below include a page of psalms:

    A single-column layout would be even better. I have the ESV Clarion from Cambridge, and it is a work of art.


  3. Friends, thank you for the valuable feedback. We will add your comments to our conversations internally for improvements on the production side. Blessings!

    Dr. Micah Carter
    HCSB Translation Spokesperson


  4. You may already know this, but the Hebrew is divided by accents into liturgical (and sense) units. The HCSB tries to follow this. Each unit begins left aligned. Only if the unit can’t fit onto the line is the remainder indented.

    Ray Clendenen
    HCSB translator/editor


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ray and commenting. Yes, I knew that, but thank you for specifying that for all our readers.

      I guess my concern is that visually for English readers, can we use the same arrangement and will that serve the same function as in Hebrew? Or put another way, are there markers that we can use that function more like those in the Hebrew without mimicking the Hebrew? Is alignment one of those? I ask, not because I have the answer, but because I want to see that the translation can better serve the English reader. Again, the observation about layout came from actual use in public reading in the congregation and is what prompted this post.

      Thank you for your translating, editing, and service to the Lord and His people. May God continue to bless your work of ministry in this way.


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