CONTROLLING PAGE DEPTH, part 2

Widows and orphans: Why would you want to make a spread short or long? The usual reason is to avoid widows and orphans. Traditionally, a widow is the last line of a paragraph stranded at the top of a page and an orphan is the first line of a paragraph stranded at the bottom of a page. I say “traditionally,” because those definitions are reversed by some word processing software vendors, leading to much confusion in discussions between word processors and typographers. It’s therefore safest to avoid these words altogether and just talk about ensuring that the first two line of a paragraph stay together and the last two lines of a paragraph stay together. Doing this, in straight text, can result in pages running long or short.

It’s best to avoid both widows and orphans, but sometimes something has to give. In that case, an orphan (first line of a paragraph at the bottom of a page) is better than a widow (last line at the top of a page). The reason for the preference is that a widow is typically less than a full line of text. Sometimes it’s just a word or two.

One way to avoid both widows and orphans, when it seems that you can’t, is to find a paragraph with a short last line and tighten it up a little so that it ends up one line shorter. Other times, it’s easier to find a paragraph with nearly a full last line and rebreak it so that it ends up a line longer. Careful compositors use these techniques all the time to ensure their spreads balance and they don’t end up with widows and orphans.

[Previous: part 1…]

[Brian Jud invited me to contribute short articles on book interior design to his Book Book Marketing Matters newsletter, a biweekly e-zine. This page is adapted from one of those articles.]