Five Microsoft Word Typography Techniques to Make Your Documents Look Better

Poking around in the menus of Microsoft Word and other document processing tools, you may run across terms such as “widows,” “orphans,” and “kerning.” These are terms from typography that refer to how the text in a document is formatted. In this article, I’ll discuss a few of those terms you might see in Microsoft Word and how they can help you make your documents look better..

Widow       The final line of a paragraph appearing in a new column or page.

Orphan      The first line of a paragraph appearing at the end of a column or page.

Widows and orphans generally tend to make text difficult to read: the mind logically breaks at the end of a column or page, and if the text does not, there is a risk of confusing the reader. Widows and orphans can be controlled by manually manipulating the text of a paragraph, or by using a formatting tool (such as MS Word) that does so automatically.

To enable (or disable) widow/orphan control in Microsoft Word, select the paragraph you want to control (or the whole document), right-click and select “Paragraph…”. Ensure there is a check in the “Widow/Orphan control” box on the Line and Page Breaks tab.

We will look at a paragraph from Alice in Wonderland retrieved from Project Gutenberg.

Setting the Widow/Orphan control

Setting widow and orphan control

Paragraph with a widow

Alice with widow

Paragraph without a widow

Alice without widow

Kerning            Where the space for two letters overlaps as in “VA”.

Note that the right-hand edge of the top of the “V” extends a bit over the left-hand edge of the “A”. (If it doesn’t do so as you view it in your browser, look at the figure below.

Here is an example of kerned and non-kerned text.

Kerned and unkerned letters

Ligature           Connected letters.

People sometimes find text easier to read if certain letters are run together. Some examples are “fl” and “ff”. Here are two examples of the word “fluffy” in Times Roman. The “fl” and “ff” are ligatures in the first and separate in the second. It is easiest to see with the “ff”. There are also ligature character glyphs in some TrueType fonts. You control ligatures in the same dialog you control kerning.

Ligature examples

Points       Size of text.

Most Word users know they can control the size of text by adjusting the point size in the Font section of the HOME ribbon. The size is measured in “points” which are 72nds of an inch. You can type numbers into the pulldown including decimal fractions such as 15.5 to squeeze just a little more space in a line.

A proper desktop publishing app such as Scribus or QuarkXPress will give even more control over the appearance of text.

image sources

  • Widow-and-orphan control: John McDermott
  • Alice with widow: John McDermott
  • Alice without widow: John McDermott
  • Kerned and unkerned: John McDermott
  • Ligatures: John McDermott

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