In typesetting, widows and orphans are lines at the beginning or end of a paragraph that are left dangling at the top or bottom of a page or column, separated from the rest of the paragraph. (The typographer's terms for the top and bottom of a page or column are head and foot.)
There is some disagreement about the definitions of widows and orphans; what one source calls a widow another calls an orphan.[full citation needed] The Chicago Manual of Style provides these definitions:[dead link]
- A paragraph-ending line that falls at the beginning of the following page or column, thus separated from the rest of the text. Mnemonically, a widow is "alone at the top" (of the family tree but, in this case, of the page).
- A paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page or column, thus separated from the rest of the text. Mnemonically, an orphan is "alone at the bottom" (of the family tree but, in this case, of the page).
- Alternately, a word, part of a word, or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph. Mnemonically still "alone at the bottom", just this time at the bottom of a paragraph. Orphans of this type give the impression of too much white space between paragraphs.
About the appearance of a page of text, The Chicago Manual of Style indicates that a manuscript should have no orphans or widows, even if their elimination leaves additional blank space at the bottom of the column or the page. In the 16th edition, The Chicago Manual of Style (2011) suggests a new convention to determine which pages may end with the first line of a new paragraph.
The techniques for eliminating widows include:
An orphan is more easily deleted, either by inserting a blank line or by forcing a page break to push the orphan line onto the next page, to be part of the paragraph to which the orphan belongs. Similarly, an orphan word at the end of a paragraph can be relocated by forcing one or more words from the preceding text line into the paragraph line of the orphan. 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 having a single orphaned word 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-feature word processors and page layout applications include an automatic paragraph setting that prevents widows and orphans; thus, an orphan is forced to the top of the next page or column; and the text line preceding a widow is forced to the next page or column. In technical writing, where a single source may be published in different formats, with the viewer's expectation of viewing content in different sizes and resolutions, the paragraph settings automatically prevent widows and orphans. Manual overrides, such as inserted empty lines or extra spaces, can cause the insertion of a white space into the middle of pages.