Welcome to Type Tuesday.

Today we are talking about widows and orphans as used in typography.

It is also our last blog in this series.

Typography: What is a widow?

According to Wikipedia, a widow is when the last line of a paragraph falls at the beginning of the following page or column and is therefore separated from the rest of the text. Thus, a widow is ‘alone at the top of the page.’ The Proofreading Academy suggests they are simply ‘stranded final lines’, which is an excellent way to explain it!

Typography: What is an orphan?

An orphan occurs when the first line of a paragraph appears by itself on a different page or column, thus separated from the rest of the text. Therefore, an orphan is ‘alone at the bottom of the page,’ or according to the Proofreading Academy, they are ‘stranded first lines.’

Whether a widow or orphan, the end result is too much white space between paragraphs. This breaks the readers’ focus and makes the overall composition harder to read.

How to fix a widow or orphan

  1. Re-write or edit your text, using longer or shorter words in the preceding line
  2. Adjust the page margins
  3. Change the spacing on the lines by using kerning your type
  4. Add an image or quote alongside the paragraph

Don’t forget to check your word processing software as many have built-in features to prevent them from occurring. For example, Microsoft Word has an option to avoid widows and orphans in the Paragraph Format tab.

Finally, this guide is for publishing only as historically, typesetters crafted each line of text by pulling it back (to avoid a widow) or pushing it forward (to prevent an orphan) on a page.

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