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Widows and Orphans

Widows and orphans will be taken care of by the book designer when all editing changes have been completed. Here's some information about W&O.

An orphan is the first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page or column; a widow is the last line of a paragraph at the top of a page or column. Both should be avoided, though orphans are less damaging to appearance. If absolutely necessary, widows may be tolerated if they are over half a line in length. Be especially careful to avoid widows and orphans between the bottom of a right hand page and the top of the following, left hand page, as you must turn the page to finish the paragraph.

Guidelines:Writing guides generally suggest that a manuscript should have no widows and orphans, even when avoiding them results in additional space at the bottom of a page or column.

Corrections for widows and orphans are made only when all editing changes have been completed. Some techniques for eliminating widows include:

  • Forcing a page break early, producing a shorter page;

  • Adjusting the leading, the space between lines of text (although such carding or feathering is usually frowned upon);

  • Adjusting the spacing between words to produce ‘tighter’ or ‘looser’ paragraphs;

  • Adjusting the hyphenation of words within the paragraph;

  • Adjusting the page’s margins;

  • Subtle scaling of the page, though too much non-uniform scaling can visibly distort the letters;

  • Rewriting a portion of the paragraph;

  • Reduce the tracking of the words;

  • Adding a pull quote to the text (more common for magazines); and

  • Adding a figure to the text, or resizing an existing figure.

  • An orphan is cured more easily, by inserting a blank line or forcing a page break to push the orphan line onto the next page to be with the rest of its paragraph. Such a cure may have to be undone if editing the text repositions the automatic page/column break.

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