In typesetting, widows and orphans are words or short lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph, which are left dangling at the top or bottom of a column, separated from the rest of the paragraph. There is some disagreement about the definitions of widow and orphan; what one source calls a widow the other calls an orphan. The Chicago Manual of Style uses these definitions:
Another way is to think of orphans as generally being younger than widows; thus, orphaned lines happen first, at the start of paragraphs (affecting and stranding the first line), and widowed lines happen last, at the end of paragraphs (affecting and stranding the last line). Orphaned lines appear at the "birth" (start) of paragraphs; widowed lines appear at the "death" (end) of paragraphs.
Writing guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, 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. However, in its 16th edition (2011) the Chicago Manual of Style suggests a new convention in which pages may end with the first line of a new paragraph. Some techniques for eliminating widows include:
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.
Similarly, a single orphaned word at the end of a paragraph can be cured by forcing one or more words from the preceding line into the orphan's line. In web-publishing, this is typically accomplished by concatenating the words in question with a non-breaking space and, if available, by utilizing the orphans: and widows: attributes in Cascading Style Sheets. Sometimes it can also be useful to add non-breaking spaces to the first two (or few) short words of a paragraph to avoid that a single orphaned word is placed to the left or right of a picture or table, while the remainder of the text (with longer words) would only appear after the table.
Most full-featured word processors and page layout applications include a paragraph setting (or option) to automatically prevent widows and orphans. When the option is turned on, an orphan is forced to the top of the next page or column; and the line preceding a widow is forced to the next page or column with the last line.
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