Take Out the Widows and Orphans!

Much of a magazine designer’s time is taken up with typesetting – laying out passages of text so that they fill the page and look attractive, perhaps flowing around curves and images. Typesetting is more important than you might think. If a page is completely filled with a solid block of text, not only does it look ugly, it is also daunting to the reader. The chances are that the reader will simply avoid reading that page. By comparison, a nicely laid out page of text and images invites the reader to immerse themselves in it.

Widows and orphans are perennial problems for typesetters and designers. A widow is the last line of a paragraph that falls at the top of the page or column. Orphans come in two forms – either the first line of a paragraph that falls at the bottom of a page or column or a very short one or two word line that falls at the end of a paragraph. None of them is a design disaster, they just look a little odd, they just look wrong. Of course, good graphic design is all about creating things that look intrinsically right.

Most magazines are laid out in columns rather than pages and this increases the chances of widows and orphans occurring. Happily, they are easy to fix by making small adjustments to the layout. You can marginally increase or decrease the line spacing or the gap between paragraphs. Just make sure that you do it consistently or it will look just as wrong as the widows and orphans. You can also move short words from the end of a line to the line below, great for getting rid of orphans. The only problem is that making these little adjustments can be rather time consuming.

Alternatively, if you have some basic copywriting skills, you can add in or remove a few words that won’t affect the meaning or flow of the text. This is generally quicker than making spacing adjustments. Like all things in life, you get better with practice!

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