Orphans and Widows

Orphans and widows are single lines of text that are separated from the rest of the paragraph to which they belong by a page break, thereby stranding them all alone at the bottom of a page or the top of the next page. This happens even more frequently when there are multiple columns of text on a page.

Orphan = first line of a paragraph that gets cut off and stranded at the bottom of a page.

Widow = last line of a paragraph that gets cut off and stranded at the top of the next page.

How shall we remember which is which?

Well, think of an orphan as being abandoned early in the child’s life or near the “birth” of a paragraph, whereas a widow is abandoned late in life after the elderly paragraph “husband” dies on the previous page, leaving the widow to carry on all by herself.

How can we slay orphans and widows if they invade our page?

Some of the tricks I used when I was an oilfield technology magazine editor include:

  • Add an extra line space just before the orphan to force it over to the next page or column to be with its “family.” Sometimes I also used a column break or page break to do this.
  • Turn the hyphenation on or off or adjust the “kerning” or spacing between words to tighten or loosen the paragraph text.
  • Change the page margins slightly or change the font size by one point;
  • Add or subtract a few words in that paragraph or the one above it.
  • Change the size of the figure on the page.
  • And the favorite of magazine editors: add a pull-quote as “eye candy.”

Or, if you remember yesterday’s tip on keeping your bullets together in a bandolier, you can use the Format > Paragraph > Line and Page Breaks feature in Word to check the Widow/Orphan Control box, and let the software slay those pesky orphans and widows for you. That way, your conscience won’t bother you a bit.


One Response to “Orphans and Widows”

  1. Widows and Orphans | Missi Magalis Says:

    […] To remember which is a widow and which is an orphan, think of it this way–an orphan is left early in life (bottom of the page), and a widow is left later in life (top of a page). I did not think this up myself. I learned it from this blog post: https://oilpatchwriting.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/orphans-and-widows/. […]

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