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3 Ways to Fix Runts in Your Text

In typography, a “runt” occurs when the last line of a paragraph ends with a short word or part of a hyphenated word, creating an undesirable look. You can prevent hyphenated runts by turning off the Hyphenate Last Word option in the Hyphenation Settings dialog box.

hyphenation-customization

But to prevent whole short words from showing up on a line by themselves, you need to do something extra. Here are 3 options:

GREP Style #1: .{10}$  This expression will target the last 10 characters before the end of a paragraph. Use it with a character style that applies the No Break option, and you’re guaranteed that the last line of each paragraph will have at least 10 characters. Adjust the number in the brackets if you want more or fewer characters to be “no breaked.”

grep-no-break-1-example

grep-no-break-1

GREP Style #2: (?<=\w)\s(?=\ w+[[:punct:]]+$)  This one’s a bit more complex and subtle. It matches just the space between the last two words in a paragraph. Used with a No Break character style, it glues the last word in a paragraph to the final syllable of the penultimate word. Put another way, the last word in a paragraph will always have some company on the last line, even if it’s just part of another word.

grep-no-break-2-examplegrep-no-break-2

Edit the text. This simple, but often overlooked option can fix all kinds of typographic problems. True, you may not be allowed to make edits if the text was authored by someone else. But even a small tweak can work wonders, so it might be worth seeking approval for an edit instead of spending a long time fiddling with settings and banging your head against the keyboard.

Do you have a different way of fixing runts? Share it in the comments!

Mike Rankin

Mike Rankin

Editor in Chief of InDesignSecrets.com, InDesign Magazine, and CreativePro.com. Author of lynda.com courses on InDesign and Illustrator. Husband. Dad. Dog walker.
Mike Rankin

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19 Comments on “3 Ways to Fix Runts in Your Text

  1. I always go with “edit the text.” Anything else can create problems. We can also add a genuine ‘runt be gone’ to the long list of features Adobe should be adding to InDesign but isn’t.

    I’m starting to miss that marvelous Seattle InDesign team I knew when I lived there. They were committed to improving the product and willing to fight the company’s dreadful bean-counters to do that. I’ve begun to doubt that ID-India has that same fighting spirit.

    Issues like these illustrate why we might be well-advised to stir up unrest among business users of ID. I suspect there are a lot of companies that have $20 or $50 seats specifically for ID and making print or PDF material. They’re getting ill-treated by an Adobe that’s spending their money or products they have no use for.

  2. When a company rests on its laurels and/or believes in its own hype, it’s in trouble. It will go the way of some politicians in the US and UK. Then it will have no-one to blame but itself. As Judge Judy would say: Put on your listening ears, Adobe before it’s too late!

  3. I’d appreciate if people who reply here could keep on topic.

    This website has forums for more general discussion.

    • Thank you, Steve. Michael and Anita, do you have any constructive tips on how you handle runts (short last lines)?

      BTW, we should point out that while some people call these widows and other people call them orphans, those terms definitely do not describe short last lines at the end of a paragraph. Those are reserved for other typographic problems. (Orphans are single first lines stranded at the bottom of a column. Widows are single last lines stranded at the top of a column.) That’s why I like the term “runt” when talking about short last-lines.

      • David, I rather like “runt”, though it’s a newer term to me than widow and orphan.

        Since the dawn of typography this has been debated and most scholarly texts avoid the use of either word.

        I was taught to call your “runts” word-widows and your “widows” line-widows to eliminate confusion. And that orphans are at the bottom because they were “left behind”, but even today there is still little agreement.

        In practical experience, nearly all designers, printers and editors I know and all laymen call any short line a “widow”. “Runt” appears to be a fairly recent use, but seems to be catching on so maybe some day there will be clarity!

        Funny how a short line or poorly broken paragraph requires a special word but a misspelled word is just a misspelled word no matter where it is.

        Of course, it doesn’t matter what we call them as long as we fix them!

      • A little reminder: a widow has no past and an orphan no future and can be fixed using the keep options in your paragraph style. In Dutch we call a runt “hoerejong” (child of a hooker) and he/she is always standing alone!

  4. Much better solution is decrease/increase entire paragraph tracking a bit.(<= -10/+10) OR apply full justification to paragraph – it sometimes also helps.

    "When a company rests on its laurels and/or believes in its own hype, it’s in trouble."
    I couldn't agree more!

  5. I fiddle with the tracking as I have found that in practice a runt is often accompanied by a loose line or two earlier in the paragraph. If necessary, I edit, which I can do because I am usually the editor as well as the typesetter. I would never use ‘no break’ in this situation.

    While automatic suppression of runts is desirable, I’d like a lot of control of the parameters if Adobe provided such an option. Not an easy bit of code to write, I suspect.

  6. Useful tips, Mike. I tried selecting the code in GREP Style #2 to copy in order to compare it to a similar GREP string, and it appears that there may be an extra space between the backslash and “w” in the lookahead string.

  7. This is a great topic! According to the Chicago Manual, the rules are as follows:

    “The final word of a paragraph is allowed to hyphenate except that a minimum of four characters (not counting periods, commas, and quotation marks) is required on the final line.”

    I managed to put together a GREP that pretty much adheres to those rules and wrote a blog post about it a while back: https://www.id-extras.com/indesign-grep-to-avoid-runts

    • Ariel–thankfully most of my company’s clients follow Chicago Manual, but there are a few exceptions. They definitely allow orphans (per David’s definition), but definitely NOT widows (David’s definition). The publishers I work with (and their editors and proof readers) call the last line of a paragraph at the top of the page a widow, and orphans what some call runts.

      Anyway–only a few clients require a full word down. And a few don’t allow hyphenation across pages (which can cause loose lines). But most follow Chicaco Manual (unless you have a rogue proof reader or the author is super-picky).

  8. I want to thank you for these posts–just read the one on consistent leading–they’re VERY helpful! I have this exact ‘runt’ problem often. I usually do have some leeeway in editing text but my current project has content from the military so have to receive permission first. I’ve tried all kinds of tweaking to no avail. The only way I can fix this runt issue is to combine two short paragraphs (both with only one sentence, so it looks better to combine into one anyway). But I will try these tips when I next encounter runts. And now I know the correct name for them (other than vile language!).

  9. I use a variation of the first example. Since most of my work is with books of one to several hundred pages, I avoid GREP styles as much as possible since they tend to slow ID down considerably. But when I’m getting ready to set my final pages, I use .{7}\r as a find and replace, not with a no break character style, since there might also be italic there, but with no break character formatting. Works great and very simple.

    But in fact I use that as the last of a number of find/changes in a Multi-find/change list. I have five saved queries to reduce end-of-line problems. The first finds words after em dashes and changes to no break. The second finds words after hyphens, the third words before em dashes, and the fourth is words before hyphens. And then the last is my derunting query.

    After I run that I keep my eyes peeled for loose lines but ID’s paragraph composer is good enough that I don’t find too many.

    • I use a no break character style and also a italic no break character style.

      I have a similar Word that does what your Multi-find/change list does (minus the runt thing), as most of our files are tagged text files. Or, if they are Word files, we tag them and save as tagged text files and import via xTags.

  10. Your expression in the body of the text:

    (?<=\w)\s(?=\ w+[[:punct:]]+$)

    …has a space between the "\" and the "w"—it won't work with this space (or: it didn't for me).

    Without the space "\w" works great—thank-you.

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