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Widows don't offend

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

As a PR practitioner producing various publications, you do more than merely write text – you also need to make decisions about the typesetting and layout of the text you write. Guidance is very difficult to find on these topics, so this series is being published in to help you with these types of decisions.

The information is based on research conducted by Colin Wheildon, former editor of Australia’s largest motoring publication. With one million readers, Wheildon wanted to maximize the effectiveness of his printed words.

His findings from several ‘hands-on’ tests of type and layout, relate mainly to newspapers and magazines, which are typeset in columns:

  • 38% of readers found body text typeset wider than 60 characters (including spaces) hard to read. A further 22% indicated they probably wouldn’t read wide-measure body type even if they didn’t find it difficult to read.
  • 87% said they found extremely narrow measure, eg fewer than 20 characters, hard to read.
  • 78% said they found cross headings useful, especially in long articles. None said they found cross headings unattractive or intrusive.
  • Purist editors hate ‘widows’ – a short line completing a paragraph that finishes at the top of the next column or page. However, in the tests no readers said they were offended by – or even aware of – widows. To the contrary, a widow actually creates the benefit (to the editor) of encouraging the reader to continue to the next column or page.
  • Jumps, where an article continues on a later page, really annoy readers. Around 83% didn’t bother to make the effort to jump to the later page/s. About 39% said that when they jumped to continue reading an article on another page, they realized they frequently didn’t return to the original page.
  • More than three quarters (77%) of readers were annoyed when body type jumped over an illustration or sub-heading contrary to the natural flow of reading, ie in the middle of a sentence or paragraph.

(Although Colin Wheildon’s original book is out of print, a new edition has been recently published and is available at under the title: Type & Layout: how typography and design can get your message across - or get in the way. Author Colin Wheildon, editor Mal Warwick.The Worsley Press, Publishers. Second edition, March 2005. Soft cover, 176 pages. Price: US$36.95. ISBN: 1875750223)

This article is one of a series on publication design and typography in the “Core PR skills” area of


About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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