23 Jan

Take Care of Your Widows and Orphans . . . in Microsoft Word

I entered a first chapter contest last year and received a comment that mentioned how my disregard for Widows/Orphans left gaps of white space in my submission. The judge was right.

Well, I’ve tracked down the problem and thought I’d share.  Bottom line: to get one inch margins (no extra white space gaps) on every page, you want to see widows and orphans, so you’ll have to uncheck the Widow/Orphan Control option in MS Word.

What are widows and orphans, you ask?

A “widow” is what you get when the last line of a paragraph appears alone at the top of a page. You look at that lonely line up there and say, “Oh, you poor dear. You have been left to go on all by your lonesome.”

An “orphan” is when the first line of a paragraph appears alone at the bottom of a page. You see that poor little thing down there and say, “Oh my, those other lines just dropped you off and left you here.”

Examples of each are shown in the image. Look at the image on the right and how MS Word adjusts the text with the default “Widow/Orphan Control On.” One result is that the bottom of the previous page is left with a bigger white space than normal. This makes it so that my margins aren’t actually one inch all around.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to zoom

To turn off the default Widow/Orphan Control, follow the steps outlined in the image. It’s pretty simple, but one thing you may have to do is highlight all your text before you uncheck the box–at least, I had to do that before it worked on my pages. Good luck.

Some of the possible problems caused by widow/orphan control.

  • Can leave large empty spaces at the end of the page
  • Can look like a chapter is ending when it’s not
  • Makes it difficult for someone to estimate the length of a manuscript based on number of lines per page and number of words per line (an old method, but still used by some)
  • Can mess up formatting from one program to another

Hope this helps. Keep writing!