How to balance pages in a thesis

How to balance thesis pages

In the picture above there are two pages from a thesis where the text looks fine. It’s been formatted according to the specific instructions of the university so it’s all double spaced and uses the correct font.

Widows and orphans

Notice how the paragraph at the end of the first page continues for a couple of lines onto the next page. This looks okay, but imagine the paragraph had rather less text than it does here. Now we might get just a single word appearing on the second page, which looks rather ugly. The word on its own “development” on the top of the page is called a widow. When individual lines or words become separate from the rest of the text they are considered to be widows or orphans.

Widows occur when then last line of a paragraph falls at the beginning of the next page on a line on its own.

An orphan occurs when the first line of a paragraph is on its own on a page with the rest of the paragraph on the next page.

Both are considered to be rather unsightly and are to be avoided. Some university guidelines specifically ask for them to be removed but even if it’s not a mandatory requirement, your text will look so much better balanced without them.

How to balance pages in a thesis

Using styles

So the question is, how can they be avoided? There are two approaches you can take. But both require that you have used Word properly and have used paragraph styles throughout your document. With an important document like a thesis, it’s a good time to learn about paragraph styles if you’ve put them to one side up until now.

And because using paragraph styles is so vital to making this work, here are some great resources to understanding how they work.

Styles by Shauna Kelly is a good overview from someone with heaps of Word experience
HowToGeek Document Formatting Essentials provides a really good set of online lessons
Office Support Styles Videos is really easy to follow Microsoft training

Use the option in the paragraph styles

The first approach is to modify the Normal paragraph style or the style which is used for most of your text.

How to balance pages in Word

Just modify the paragraph style and choose the Line and Page Breaks tab. The first item is the Widow and Orphan control which you can turn on. This will ensure you never have any widows or orphans on your page, so you might think job done. That single word on the second page is now two lines rather than one so it’s no longer considered to be a widow. However the first page has one line less text than the second page. If this is an acceptable solution, then the job really is done. And in some cases, it’s absolutely fine.

Balancing pages in theses

However, there are time when you’d rather the text continued to the foot of the page AND you didn’t have widows or orphans.

Compressing or expanding the text

If the standard widow and orphan paragraph style control isn’t quite right for you then an alternative is to use a technique which is widely employed in typesetting of books and other professional documents, which involves slight compression or expansion of the text to achieve the desired effect. It’s not quite so easy to do in Word as it is in a proper typesetting programme such as Adobe InDesign, but you’re not going to be using that to format a thesis, so we need to see how this can be done in Word.

Select that long paragraph which just goes over the page and right click and select Font. Now go to the advanced tab.

You’ll see that there is an options called Spacing in which you can specify either Expanded or Condensed To avoid widows and orphans some times it is helpful to slightly condense the text, other times slight expansion is the answer. Since, in this case, everything would fit on the first page but for a single word, condensing it is the answer.

So choose Condensed and then select the amount. Typically you would only use a very small amount of either 0.1pt or 0.2pt. If you go much more than this, depending on the font you use, it might start to look a bit condensed or expanded and you really want this to be something which is not noticeable to the eye at all. So stick with small amounts and it will work fine for you.

Balance pages in a thesis

Just using this small amount of condensing of the text produces a great result, in which the whole paragraph now fits onto the first page resulting in a couple of really well balanced pages.

Balancing thesis pages

How can we help?

As you can see Word is very powerful, and can enable you to avoid unsightly widows and orphans in your documents. But it can also be quite complex to handle particularly in a large document. So if you have a large thesis in which you want the balancing and the appearance to be just right, you might want to leave it to the professionals. Just get in touch, would be delighted to help you.

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