The Blender: How to Speak Design: Widows, Orphans and Rags

When handling blocks of copy, designers will often manually edit the text for optimal legibility. This Blender post will teach basic typographical rules about text flow­­­­­ including widows and orphans, and the benefits of getting rid of them!

But first things first – what do the words “widow” and “orphan” mean to designers?

A widow is a single word or a hyphenated word that sits by itself on the last line of a column or page. An orphan is also a single word or hyphenated word that sits by itself, but rather than being on the last line, it is on the first line of the next page or column.

Widows and orphans are a huge red flag to designers because they create negative space that disrupts the flow of the paragraphs. When a single word stands out, it can hinder the experience of the reader, but there are two simple solutions to this problem: edit your copy or manually adjust the rag of the paragraph.

The rag of a paragraph is the side of the column that is not justified. If the paragraph is center-justified, both sides are considered rag. You may often hear designers say, “Justified left, ragged right,” when describing the layout of copy. To create consistent vertical flow and optimize legibility, designers will fix any inconsistent rags by shifting words, or adjusting a line’s tracking, so that all lines occupy similar horizontal space.

I know, a dangling word here and there doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, right? It really is though. Aside from visual aesthetics and reader experience, the presence of widows and orphans in any design work indicates a lack of attention to detail. This, in turn, reflects poorly on the brand. Whether people are conscious of it or not, they are constantly weighing and judging organizations by the quality and consistency of their work. Bottom line: It’s an easy fix. You now know what widows and orphans are and how to get rid of them, so we expect to never see them lurking around your paragraphs and pages again!

You’re welcome.

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