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Save the Widows and Orphans

Defining and fixing dangling words for better typography

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Widows and Orphans

Finetune Line Endings to Eliminate Widows and Orphans

In desktop publishing, widows and orphans are those words or short phrases at the end or beginning of paragraphs that are left to sit alone at the top or bottom of a column — separated from the rest of the paragraph.
Do you leave readers dangling? Words left hanging leave readers in the dark.

Not everyone agrees on what constitutes a widow and what makes a word an orphan. For every source that says orphans are the end of a sentence sitting alone at the top of a column there is another source that calls it a widow. No matter what we call them these widowed and orphaned bits of text can make our stories harder to read and our layouts look unbalanced.

Some instances of dangling words are less troublesome than others but in this article we'll look at ways to control them. Whether or not you choose to tinker with each and every instance of widows and orphans in your publications is entirely up to you and/or your client.

Some examples of widows and orphans that often need attention:

  • A word or two at the top of a column that belongs with the paragraph at the bottom of the first column looks out of place.

  • The start of a paragraph at the bottom of a column is equally annoying. When the rest of the sentence continues on the next page it can also destroy continuity for the reader.

  • Subheads that appear at the bottom of a column or end of a page — without at least 2-3 lines of the following text — also look bad and hurt readability.

Next: Once identified, learn the various ways to fine-tune your line endings to eliminate widows and orphans.

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