Orphans/Widows and setting ragged right text

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Stephen Kelman's picture
Joined: 25 Aug 2004 - 8:19am
Orphans/Widows and setting ragged right text

I couldn't find another thread that covered this topic in detail… There seems to be several schools of wisdom on approaching typesetting ragged right copy:

• Sort widows and orphans, no hyphenation, turn over all overhanging small words – and smoothing out heavily ragged text (this creates shapes that this article frowns on http://www.fonts.com/aboutfonts/articles/finetypography/ragswidowsorphan...)

• Have a balanced rag, not turning over small words etc, sort areas where optical shapes are created in the margin – as described in the link above.

• Sort widows and orphans – leave everything else.

• Little or no typesetting of the rag itself and possible use of hyphenation, see Grid Systems in Graphic Design by JMB-Brockmann.

I'd be interested to know what the typophile conventional wisdom is on this subject. It's not covered at any length by Bringhurst I don't think.


Florian Hardwig's picture
Joined: 18 Feb 2007 - 6:41am

It heavily depends on a number of things, first and foremost column width and language, but also taste. Having no hyphenation at all combined with not too wide columns simply won’t work for German.
Here’s a recent find from a German news website:

Nick Shinn's picture
Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am

This too is a question of style, and related to the job at hand.
You might want to give the impression that you don’t care about the shape of the rag, to the extent that you take pains to deliberately make it gnarly.
Or you might want to make it sweet and smooth.
Or you might want to relate it to, or echo, another graphic element on the page, a picture for instance, or the shape of a headline or an adjacent column.
Or you might break it prosodically, or according to the meaning of the text.

How the page looks and reads is important (which is, after all, Brighurst’s first point), not making sure that procedures conform to disembodied standards that do not take into account the text or the page layout.

Riccardo Sartori's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 - 4:20am
Héctor Muñoz Huerta's picture
Joined: 21 Feb 2003 - 11:00am

I think the rag smoothing on the second yellow sample still needs to have the word "or" pushed to the last line.