Hyphenation and Bad Breaks

Back in the Cretaceous when we used manual or electric typewriters, the typist used to have to decide where to hyphenate long words at the end of the line before hitting the carriage return. These days, Word will do it for you automatically. The problem is, sometimes Word doesn’t choose the correct location to place the hyphen, and you end up with what we editors call a “bad break.”





What is Pearland, you ask? Well it is a southern suburb of Houston where the local Little League baseball team went to the World Series recently. The “bad break” on paper had an interesting side effect: the TV and radio announcers for the game were pronouncing the town “Pearl-und” rather than “Pear Land,” which is how the locals say it, mainly because of the many pear trees in the area. No, the Pearland boys didn’t win the World Series, but their moms sure put in a good showing, wearing cowboy hats and matching shirts – quite the fashion statement!

Ah, but I digress….

How can we avoid or fix bad breaks?

First, you can turn hyphenation off, which is recommended for ragged right margins (left justification). Leave hyphenation on for full justification, otherwise you’ll end up with gaping holes in the middle of your line of text each time a long word at the end of the line is kicked downstairs.

How do you turn hyphenation off?

For the entire document, click Tools, point to Language, then click Hyphenation. You can select Automatic or Manual. If you choose Manual, Word will prompt you on each word that needs hyphenating, so you can use a dictionary to find the correct locations.

Or, you can choose certain paragraph or portions of the document to dehyphenate (new word, similar to decaffeinate). First, select or highlight the text you don’t want to hyphenate. Click Format at the top of your screen, slide down to Paragraph, click on the second tab “Line and Page Breaks,” and check the bottom box that says “Don’t hyphenate.”

If you are using hyphenation, read through your copy and note any weird word breaks that may occur. You can add in your own hyphen in any long word where it belongs, or you can hit Enter to kick that long word to the next line. Caution: if the default paragraph format contains a command for spacing after it, this last solution will make your line spacing uneven. Better to have a bad break!


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