Orphans & Widows

Are orphans/widows bad?

You know, the single-word line at the end of a paragraph, sticking out like a cry for help! Do professionally published books contain such things; is there some kind of rule about them?


If you mean what I understand by the term ‘widows and orphans’ - that is, a part-line ending a paragraph at the top of a page, or a line on its own starting a paragraph at the foot of a page - then yes, by and large, they are bad, simply because they tend to break the flow of the reader’s understanding (which is normally understood to occur in collections of words, or phrases.) They also look unsightly on the page (probably because culturally we are not used to seeing them in professionally published or edited books in the English language, and possibly other languages).

The general rule as far as I understand it is: adjust your page layout such that there’s more than one complete line ending a paragraph at the top of each page, and more than one complete line starting a paragraph at the foot of each page - even if this means the blocks of type on pages have slightly different lengths. (Some word processors have functionality that can be selected to do this automatically.)

Within pages, a word or two words on a line ending paragraphs and therefore leaving white space (which is another definition of ‘widows and orphans’) trouble me as a reader far less, and as a writer I wouldn’t worry about them.