A slightly belated festive question!

Why do we write on the right hand side of cards (and books)?

In English and many other languages, we typically begin writing in the top left and move rightwards and downwards, row by row.

However, when writing a card (Christmas, birthday, etc.), we write our message on the right-hand page. In fact, I frequently see a message beginning on the right-hand page and continuing on the left-hand if it is too long for a single page. This would be bizarre and counter-intuitive if I weren't already used to it.

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As far as I'm aware, the same thing holds for books - The first page of the first chapter of a novel seems to always be on the right-hand page.

Is it because the right-hand page is the first one sees after opening the cover of the card or book? Or is there some other reason for this convention?

  • 6
    Probably because when you open a card, its more natural to glance at the right hand page than the left hand page.. also could be a 'habit' carried forward over generations, we always write on the right on a card , not to say I did not see writings on the left side of the card.
    – PK2016
    Jan 6 '16 at 12:32
  • 1
    The above idea seems fine. I'd also guess it could be a hold over from books- and in books covers are traditionally made of different material to paper, leather and the like; covers were manufactured separately too, hence writing on the inside of the cover wasn't so practical or common. When paperbacks emerged we just stuck with the tradition. (I have minimal knowledge of the history of printing and that is all guesswork on my part) Jan 6 '16 at 13:35
  • Agreed with @PK2016. Also, if you put the text on the left side then there wouldn't really be a need for the right side (unless the back of the card has a design too)
    – DasBeasto
    Jan 6 '16 at 14:05
  • @PK2016 The development of language, culture, writing, writing material, mass communication over a period of time might have brought to where we are now. Am not an expert, but am trying to visualize usage of scrolls and having to write from right to left or top to down.
    – Vjay
    Jan 6 '16 at 14:40
  • "I frequently see a message beginning on the right-hand page and continuing on the left-hand if it is too long for a single page. This would be bizarre and counter-intuitive if I weren't already used to it." - interestingly, that does seem bizarre and counter-intuitive to me. If someone has so much to write in a card, it is very usual in my place to start on the left-hand side. I am not even sure it would be really feasible any differently, given that folding cards often have a shiny smooth surface, or at least pictures, on the outside (front and back) that cannot be written on easily. Nov 17 '16 at 10:04

Guidelines say...

Particularly about books there is a related question in this community:

It's recommended to start new chapters on the recto page of a manuscript, as it establishes a predictable flow for the reader to follow. The resulting occasional blank pages are actually a part of establishing this rhythm, making the divisions between chapters even more distinct. This recommendation is listed in rule 1.48 requires login of the Chicago Manual of Style.


In cards there's also a surprise factor, the same you could think of with gift boxes and packages. If you place the text on the left, the right will be blank, so there will be no point in having a right page since the messages tend to be short and concise enough to fit in 1 "page" and in this case you'd supressing the opening/discovering experience (or at least detrimenting it).


Depending on the paper the left page could blend making it harder to read. Also as you mention, the right page is the first you see and in something that offers a very short experience like a card, that may count.

  • Not to disagree with you, just as a personal opinion. I personally hold books with my non-dominant and flip pages with my dominant. This is because the book is easy to hold with either (unless it's huge) but pages are more easily flipped with the more dexterous dominant hand.
    – DasBeasto
    Jan 6 '16 at 14:58
  • @DasBeasto It's likely that my opinion is highly biased so I will revise it. btw, are you left handed ? Jan 6 '16 at 15:12
  • no need to revise it is likely an opinion shared by others and may be the reason why cards/books are like that. I am right handed though.
    – DasBeasto
    Jan 6 '16 at 15:13
  • @DasBeasto When you are holding a book in the air (no placed in a desk or so) do you hold it by "pinching" the bottom edge with your fingers (like flipping coin position) or with your entire hand behind the book? (or how?) Jan 6 '16 at 15:21
  • Completing your answer (good for me): too long messages that ended on the left-side, are bad uses IMHO. People starts thinking that space will be enough, and if not they can't go on the fourth page because it usually is laminated paper.
    – panna
    Jan 7 '16 at 17:05

It's a usability choice

  • Cards and books are hinged on the left spine, so when the user opens a card (or book) the right panel is static whereas the left panel moves.
  • As the user reaches in to open the card/book, her eye focus is on the cover, and as she opens the book or card her focus tends to remain fixed on that panel rather than tracking the panel that is being opened.
    • Out of prior experience and convention, users are accustomed to seeing the next linear chunk of information on the right panel after opening a book cover/card.
  • There is also a cognitive reason for this (besides convention): it's easier for the eye to perceive and digest a static piece of content than something that is moving and then comes to rest.
    • Think of looking at a picture of a bird vs watching a bird flying and then coming to rest: it's cognitively easier to identify and appreciate the picture than the moving bird because the brain has to do less processing around relating the shape to meaning when the shape is static.
    • For this same reason, product packaging is often designed so that the product is static within the frame of a box when you open it, rather than moving together with the lid or any other part of the packaging. And for this same reason, slide-out packaging is perceived as less interesting to customers than packaging where the customer flips or opens the lid to a box (think of opening a jewelry case vs sliding a pencil out of a box).

For these various, complementary reasons, it makes sense to put the text on the right panel of a card.

  • 1
    … and that’s also why full-page advertisements in magazines are usually on recto pages, although that’s not about usability.
    – Crissov
    Jan 6 '16 at 23:01

There's also a practical aspect in that the first 'page' of a book, by definition, has to be on the right, as the cover is on the left. If you grab a book and open the front cover you have:

|               |               | 
|               |               | 
|               |               | 
|               |               | 
| Inside Front  |      First    | 
|    Cover      |      "Page"   | 
|               |               | 
|               |               | 
|               |               | 
|               |               | 
|               |               | 
|               |               | 

A card is obviously not a book, but humans are creatures of habit so it also makes sense there just from a familiar experience standpoint.


Something not mentioned by the other answers:

Cards are made of, well, card. Writing on card can easilly produce indentations in the card, effectively embossing the message into the card.

If the message were to be on the rear of the 'cover' of the card, the design on the front would be negatively impacted by the imprint of the contained message.

While this isn't a problem with printed messages inside the card, these are usually ammended with extra content by the sender of the card. There is also the tradition of the text being on the right hand side for the reasons described above.

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