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In typesetting, widows and orphans are 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 another calls an orphan. The Chicago Manual of Style uses these definitions:
Another way to think is that orphaned lines appear at the "birth" (start) of paragraphs; widowed lines appear at the "death" (end) of paragraphs. "An orphan is alone from the beginning; a widow is alone at the end," or "An orphan starts alone, a widow ends alone."
Writing guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, generally suggest that a manuscript should have no widows and orphans even if the result of avoiding them is 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 or 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.
In technical writing where a single source may be published in multiple formats, and now in HTML5 with the expectation of viewing content at different sizes or resolutions, use the word processor settings that automatically prevent widows and orphans. Manual overrides such as inserted empty lines or extra spaces can cause unexpected white space in the middle of pages.