All Alone and Misunderstood: Widows, Orphans, Runts, and Rivers

You've finally found the perfect content creation specialist. She's really something special. It doesn't matter the task you give to her, she creates superior content each and every time. More importantly, she's all about open communication and making sure that your needs are being met. But...there's always a but, right? There are a few parts of the content creation process that she's not familiar with -- widows, orphans, runts, and rivers.

Importance of Fixing Widows, Orphans, Runts, and Rivers

Here, in just a second, you'll be reading the definitions of the above mentioned composition aspects that you'll want to avoid within your marketing and informational pieces of marketing -- paper or digital -- that you share with your customers, vendors, distributors, suppliers, and consumers as a whole. Any type of marketing needs to look professional. After all, it is your company's brand that's on the line. The more professional your marketing looks, the more respected you will become in the eyes of consumers.


Widow: A widow occurs when the last line of a paragraph is not able to fit at the bottom of a page or column. Instead, it sits at the top of the next page, looking out of place.

Orphan: An orphan is the exact opposite of a widow. It's when the first line of a paragraph sits at the bottom of a page by itself.

Runt: A runt can occur anywhere throughout a page or column, and it's when the last line found in a paragraph ends with a single word; this often happens with hyphenated words.

Rivers: A noticeable crack or line that runs through a paragraph, most commonly an issue after adjusting the tracking in a sentence.

Any graphic design specialist can help you recognize widows, orphans, runts, and rivers, but it's important to understand that these discrepancies are format-based, meaning that they will change from one format to another. Keeping this in mind, for each unique marketing format that you're using, the widows, orphans, runts, and rivers will need to be appropriately corrected.

What is Tracking?

Tracking is a way to fix widows, orphans, and runts. It involves highlighting a sentence or paragraph as a whole and adjusting the spacing between letters that form words, sentences, and paragraphs. It's imperative to start at the beginning of the content and and fix these composition issues (widows, orphans, and runts ) one by one. As one gets fixed, this could fix the rest of the issues, or it might create more, because with each fix, the remaining content will be affected. This is why a person should never flip back and forth from the beginning of their content to the end when fixing widows, orphans, and runts.

To make sure rivers don't occur, appropriate hyphenation settings need to be made along with correct hyphenation adjustments. If rivers still occur, a light touch of tracking adjustments may fix the problem.

Leave a Lasting Effect

The purpose of editing your content and correcting these composition errors is to ensure that your marketing leaves a positive, lasting effect. Your customers may not understand what widows and orphans are, but when they read through your content, it's essential that they not be distracted by these errors. When they can easily digest the content you present to them, the more effective your marketing endeavors will be.

InDesign Type: Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign

by Nigel French

Typography is the foundation of graphic design, and the most effective way to be a better designer is to understand type and use it confidently and creatively. This fully updated third edition is a comprehensive guide to creating professional type with Adobe InDesign. It covers micro and macro typography concepts, from understanding the nuance of a single spacing width to efficiently creating long and complex documents. Packed with visual examples, InDesign expert and acclaimed design instructor Nigel French shows not just how to use InDesign's extensive type features, but why certain approaches are preferable to others, and how to avoid common mistakes. Whether you're creating a single-page flyer or a thousand-page catalog, whether your documents will be printed or viewed on screen, InDesign Type is an invaluable resource for getting the most out of InDesign's typographic toolset.