Quick and Painless Widow Prevention

How many of you have ever heard of widows? And no, I’m not talking about women who outlive their husbands.

What I am actually referring to is a typographical phenomenon: The dictionary ((The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2007, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2007. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.)) defines a widow as “A single, usually short line of type, as one ending a paragraph, carried over to the top of the next page or column” or “A short line at the bottom of a page, column, or paragraph.”

If you’ve ever used Microsoft Word, you may have noticed that every so often, it may adjust a paragraph from one page to another or perform some other adjustment at page breaks while you’re typing. Word is programmed to help to prevent widowed text.

Most (all?) blogging software is at a disadvantage here, requiring a custom solution.

You love your readers, though, and you want them to have the most typographically excellent experience possible. I understand that. It’s why people like us use a WordPress theme like Thesis.

Given the awesome community which WordPress and the blogosphere in general foster, the work has already been done for us in the form of Widon’t, a WordPress plugin by Shawn Inman, creator of the Best Damn Site Analytics Software out there.

Widon’t is a simple little plugin; simply upload its si-widont.php file to your plugins directory and activate it from the Plugins panel.

Right away, your post’s titles will receive the Widon’t treatment, but what about your posts?

There are reasons why Widon’t doesn’t automatically scour your posts, adding non-breaking spaces between the last two words of every element. Such nondiscriminatory alterations could have all sorts of unforeseen side effects.

And unforeseen side effects can be very bad things.

Widon’t gets around this by providing a simple control panel at Plugins → Widon’t Options within which you can specify the tags you would like Widon’t to search inside.

Your mileage may vary, but I’m rocking Widon’t with this combination of tags: h3 h4 h5 h6 li p dt dd.

That covers most of the block-level tags, and I’m undecided if it’d be worth it to include phrase tags such as strong or samp. The more I use Widon’t, the more I’ll understand what needs to be happening, and I’ll try to keep this post updated with an optimal list of tags to include.

The more astute readers may have noticed I’m not included blockquote in the list of tags. The reason for this is that while blockquote is a block-level element, to be valid there must be another block-level element within it. Thus, my block quotes include p tags, and I’m already including paragraph tags in the Widon’t list.

I recommend Widon’t if you want to increase your site’s typographical awesomeness a level or two.

As a corollary to the matter of preventing widowed text, I highly encourage you to take some time to research Web typography. Most of it isn’t terribly complex, and there are a good many tips and tricks which can work on virtually all sites out there.

The difference between an average blog and a typographically-tuned blog is like that of night and day. Your time investment in typography will be well worth it.

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