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Do you take care of widows and orphans?

Widows and orphans. We’re talking typography here. The term seems a bit strange at first, but once you realize the definition, things become clear.

Typography is a big part of graphic design. That is, making sure text is arranged in a pleasing manner. It’s deciding whether to use one columns or two. Left justified text or full justified. It’s knowing how to wrap text around objects so it looks good. Graphic designers have to pay very close attention to how words work within projects.

Back to widows and orphans. Think of it this way – widows and orphans have something in common: they’re alone. Here’s an example of a widow:

That word that’s left hanging at the end of the paragraph all alone and lonesome? That’s your widow – and it’s also bad typography. Leaving a single word (or a couple short words) at the end of a paragraph or column creates visual imbalance. It creates too much empty space after the text, which is aesthetically displeasing. It’s “fine,” but it’s not the best. Even if no one “notices,” their subconscious will feel the imbalance and leave subtle negative feelings.

Here’s another example for you – this time with an orphan:

This straggler, as you can see, is at the top of the second column. This could be something that happens with side-by-side columns, or something that happens between pages. For example, in a book – if a page begins with an orphan, it’s distracting, just like the previously explained widow.

So how do you fix widows and orphans? Sometimes it’s as simple as slightly rewording the text. Eliminating a word or two might move the sentences back enough to make everything even out. Sometimes it’s adding a hard return on an earlier line where it’s visually appropriate. Sometimes it has to do with tracking or leading (that is, the space between words or lines). If you’re using a word processor like Microsoft Word, it might be using tools like paragraph spacing or character spacing. (Just make sure that nothing looks too tight or too spread out – it still needs to be readable, obviously.) If you’re dealing with images, it might be resizing an image so the text wraps differently.

There is a plethora of ways to take eliminate widows and orphans, and in the end, the method is based solely on how the end product looks.

Closing thought:

At Serious Solutions, we’re dedicated to taking care of widows and orphans... which is Biblical, too! (“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27)


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