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Fine-tune Your Line Endings

How to eliminate widows and orphans

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Widows and Orphans

Finetune Line Endings to Eliminate Widows and Orphans

Fine-tune Your Line Endings
Software settings can do some of the work but don't rely solely on your computer. There are several ways to adjust widows and orphans in your documents. You may use multiple methods in a single project.

  • Rewriting or editing can solve many problems including widows and orphans. If you have the authority to make editorial changes, you can rid yourself of some stubborn dangling words by simply editing out a word or two or using a longer or shorter word.

  • Some software programs have automatic controls that help prevent widows and orphans. These may work fairly well to keep subheads and paragraphs together or to keep at least the first and last 2-3 lines of each paragraph on the same page. These type of controls usually work by adding extra space at the beginning or end of a page or paragraph, forcing text that might otherwise split to stay together on a page. You can specify how many lines must stay together.

  • You can control line endings on all lines as well as widows and orphans by making your hyphenation zone larger or smaller — forcing fewer or more words to hyphenate. Manually hyphenating some lines can also force changes that will eliminate some widows and orphans without changing entire sections of your document.

  • You can use tracking, letter spacing, or character spacing to change line endings. You might want to apply these changes globally throughout your document or only in certain areas. Sometimes loosening or tightening the spacing on just one line or even one word can be enough to force a change.

Don't rely on your software to recognize and correctly fix every type of dangling word or phrase. Try different settings to get the best overall line endings then fix remaining problems individually. Proofread after every change.

Know When to Stop
Watch out for the "domino" effect. When working your way through a document making changes in tracking or spacing, start at the beginning. Make changes in small increments. Any changes you make at the start of the document can affect text further along — creating new line ending problems.

Don't lose sight of the "big picture" either. What seems like a few simple line adjustments in a single paragraph can appear quite different when you look at the paragraph along side other unadjusted text. Although you can sometimes do just a tiny bit of squeezing on a single word, if you need to do a lot of squeezing spread it out over an entire paragraph.

Make sure that the measures you take to eliminate the widows and orphans aren't worse than your original problem. Correct the worst of your widows and orphans then let the marginal ones go.

 POLL: Do you allow words to sit alone at the end of paragraphs within columns of text?
 1) No, I usually try to eliminate short lines. 
 2) I leave them alone except in front of subheadings. 
 3) Only with ragged right alignment 
 4) Sure, they look fine 
 5) I fix them only if the customer insists (and most don't) 
 6) Why not? 
 

Dealing with Widows and Orphans
Browse these tips on recognizing and dealing with widows and orphans and other line ending matters:

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