Careful of hyphens and eliminate widows and orphans
Be careful with hyphens.
Because typeset line endings are automatic, so is the hyphenation. You can turn it on or off. Hyphenation is done by dictionary. You can set up the hyphens when you add new words to the user dictionary (see InDesign’s help).
Another problem is that automatic hyphenation can create hyphens for many consecutive lines. Here there is sharp debate. Most of us agree that two hyphens in a row should be the maximum (a three-hyphen “stack” looks odd). Page layout software allows you to set that limit. Many set the limit at one.
Yet another problem comes when you run into something like two hyphens in a row; then a normal line; then two more hyphens. The final problem comes when the program hyphenates part of a compound word. In this case, you usually have to set the No Break attribute for the word (in the Option menu of the Character panel). It is worth setting up a custom shortcut to do that quickly as you edit. Be careful with hyphens!
Finally, never hyphenate a word in a headline or subhead. It just isn’t done. In fact, almost all headers should be carefully examined if they go to two lines or more. Normally they need to be broken for sense with soft-returns [Shift+Return]. In your header paragraph styles, simply turn hyphenation off. I’ve tried to turn hyphenation off for an entire book. I later turned it back on for the body copy—simply because the type color was no longer smooth enough. I mean InDesign justifies well, but not that well.
Eliminate widows and orphans
As Roger Black states in his pioneering work, Desktop Design Power (Random House, 1990, out of print) “Widows are the surest sign of sloppy typesetting.” The problems arise as soon as we start trying to simply define the words. See the subsection below on orphans.
I am using the most common definitions (also the ones used by Black). A widow is a short line at the end of a paragraph that is much too short. What is too short? Again, there is sharp debate. The best answer is that the last line must have at least two complete words and those two words must be at least eight characters total. Bringhurst says at least four characters. (But then his typography is filled with short sentence fragments at the end of paragraphs that look horrible, as far as I am concerned.) You need to eliminate all of them like the word “above” which follows: a-
Orphans (paragraph fragments in columns)
The software will really mess you up here, if you are not careful. Programmers usually have no idea what a widow is. Often they confuse widows with orphans. InDesign uses Bringhurst’s definitions. I do not know any traditional typesetter who uses these conventions, but then I only know a few hundred or so. I agree with people like Sandee Cohen, Roger Black, Robin Williams, and many others. Actually, everyone agrees what excellent type should look like. There are only semantic differences—word definitions.
An orphan is a short paragraph or paragraph fragment left by itself at the top or bottom of a column. In Bringhurst-speak (and he is marvelously witty), a widow is an orphan at the bottom of a column. An orphan is one left at the top of a column. A classic example is a subhead left at the bottom of one column with the body copy starting at the top of the next column.
InDesign allows you to control both of these problems fairly well with their keeps controls. A keeps control, in the option menu of the paragraph panel (or in your paragraph style), allows you to determine if a paragraph must stay with the following paragraph (in the case of the subhead, for example). It also allows you to set the minimum paragraph fragment allowed at either end of a paragraph. This is normally a two-line minimum, top or bottom, beginning or end. Be careful—all existing software considers a widow to be an orphan at the bottom of a column and an orphan comes only at the top (they are both orphans).
Fixing widows (last lines of paragraphs)
Bad paragraph widows mess up the type color. They allow a blank white area to appear between paragraphs which stands out like a sore thumb. There is no way to eliminate them except by hand. The best way is editorially. In other words, rewrite the paragraph!
Occasionally that is not possible. In that case, you must carefully adjust the hyphenation, horizontal scale, point size, or word spacing (in that order).
Here we get into local formatting. However, a difficult widow can often be eliminated no other way.
Here are the techniques (Added in order, as necessary)
- Hyphenation: Often you can eliminate a widow by simply adding a hyphenation point to a word with a discretionary hyphen. A discretionary hyphen is a character that places a breaking point in a word that is invisible unless a hyphen is needed. The shortcut varies. The InDesign default is Command+Shift+Hyphen. Sadly, this character is often not available on the PC [so you may need to invent a shortcut].
- Horizontal scale: Here we get into another of those typographic purist fracases. Using horizontal scaling to condense or expand letterforms makes these guys and gals freak. However, plus or minus 5% (hopefully less) is invisible. This is the easiest way to pull back a widow. Even most typographers can’t see the changes. (Usually one or two percent is enough.)
- Point size: Make the point size a half-point smaller. As you recall, a point is about the smallest difference the human eye can see. An entire paragraph with type that is a half-point smaller is an invisible change.
- Word spacing: In justified copy, the word space is elastic. You’ll need to customize this setting in the Justification dialog box because the defaults are terrible. Let’s say your software is set at 80% minimum, 100% normal, and 115% maximum. If you change the normal to 95%, you move the words a little closer and might eliminate a widow.
You must be gentle or your corrections will stand out worse than the widow: The point size should never be changed more than a half point, for example. Always make your changes to the entire paragraph. Extremely short paragraphs often cannot be fixed, except to “break for sense.” This means placing soft returns so that each short line makes sense by itself (as much as possible). Remember, the best method is rewriting the paragraph to add or subtract a word or two or another phrase to get rid of the widow.
The absolute worst orphan is a widow at the top of a new page—especially if it is the hyphenated back half of the last word. Other horrible typos are: widow at the top of a column; subhead at the bottom, as mentioned; a kicker separated from its headline; and a subhead with one line of body copy at the bottom of a column.
These errors must be eliminated at the proofing stage. This is what we mean by massaging a document into shape. Corrections like these are among the primary factors that cause people to react to a design. If they are missing, your design will be classed with amateur productions like school and bureaucrat output.
- The dashes: hyphen, en dash, and em dash (hackberry-fonts.com)
- Control your word spacing with tabs and fixed spaces (hackberry-fonts.com)