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In the context of typography, an orphan is a bit of text (usually a word or two) at the end of a paragraph that is very short compared to the rest of the paragraph. There is a visual disconnect that occurs when an orphan is present, and it should be avoided in all professional design work. Pictured below, the highlighted bit of text, “minima.” is the orphan at the end of its paragraph.
Orphans can come up quite frequently when placing body copy, especially if you are working with editorial layouts. Luckily, there is a quick fix when using InDesign.
Strategy 1 | Adjust the tracking
The tracking adjustment can be found under the Character Panel, via the Type menu, or by keying Command + T. In this particular instance, the default tracking is set to 0.
When making a tracking adjustment, the goal is maintain an undetectable difference from the rest of the text. In this case, changing the tracking of the affected paragraph from 0 to -10 is enough to eliminate the orphan.
A good rule of thumb to avoid noticeable tracking is to stay within a range of –20 to 20. If you’re in a real difficult situation, -30 to 30 should be the absolute farthest the tracking should be pushed.
Strategy 2 | Adjust the columns
If the tracking is just not getting you where you need to be, try changing the number of columns you are working with. (This strategy assumes your grid layout and design allows for variation in columns.)
In this case, all it took was a quick click from three columns down to two to immediately remove the orphan. Play around with the number of columns to suit the flow of your copy, and stick with the number that removes the most (or hopefully all) orphans.
You may find that adjusting the number of columns allows for more effective tracking edits without pushing it too far.
Comment below if you found this helpful, or if you have any additional tricks up your sleeve to stealthily remove orphans from your typography in InDesign.