Every now and again you learn a term which puts into words what you’ve always known and needed a sentence or two to explain before. I had such a moment today when I learnt about the way the terms ‘widows’ and orphans’ are used in publishing. I’ll now find myself reverse engineering these words back into those one or two sentence explanations and show what relevance this has for your CVs and cover letters.

Actually, I’ll let Wikipedia define widows and orphans for me.


  • A paragraph-ending line that falls at the beginning of the following page/column, thus separated from the remainder of the text.


  • A paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page/column.
  • A word, part of a word, or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph. Orphans result in too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.

Thanks Wikipedia!

This is how it’s relevant to your applications…

Well I’m pretty hung up on style – people who know me in person might be surprised by that but when it comes to formatting I’m pretty pedantic and I’ve always tried to avoid what I now know is called orphans and widows in my CVs.  So heres the approach I always take in my applications.

Your CV should be broken into sections with headings. This post is not about the content of a CV so I’ll not get into what those headings should be but there are standard ones you should be using such as ‘Work History’ and ‘Education’ for example. I try to have the top of my page start with a new heading and have the end of a section at the bottom of the page. If you find a heading at the bottom of your page and all the content for the section it heads on the following page (an orphan), then I’d say it’s preferable to insert a page break so that you’re leaving a little white space at the bottom of the page but starting the next one with a nice heading.

This isn’t always possible though as sometimes a section could be over half a page long but start half way down just because of how the content before places it. To me this is fine as long as it’s not placing a single or few lines or bullet points on the next page (widow). But if it is doing that you can’t just add a break before the section instead and leave half a page of white space! In these cases I’d go so far as to look at how I can reduce a bit of text by rewording things or adjusting the horizontal margins on the page to allow more text to fit width-wise reducing the height it needs. On the other side of the coin you can add content to create more text on the next page giving that widow some more company (thus eliminating it)… however it’s always good to try to be more concise rather than less so.

Whatever you do though, don’t change the font size or other formatting in a single section just so you can get it fitting on the page. Even if the change is subtle, it’ll affect the appearance of the document as a cohesive whole. Your document should be unified through its style and that means things like the amount of space above and below headings, font sizes for headings and main text, the font itself, left and right alignments, line spacing and the style of bullet points should all be consistent throughout. You can certainly change these a bit but  change it in one place, change it everywhere.

These kind of adjustments need to be looked at as finishing touches on your CV. Doing this as you go from the start can only be good for time wasting as the many inevitable adjustments you make to your content will change the way it flows and fits into the confines of your document. Also in my opinion this is the kind of detail which has a big effect but isn’t that noticeable at the same time… like those days when you think you’re grumpy for no reason but really it’s because your undies shrunk in the wash – something’s having an effect on you but no one can put their finger on it (and nor should they).

And with that I leave you!

I wonder if I’m just overly pedantinc but if you can confirm or deny my view I’m sure readers would appriciate it – I know I would!

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Advice, CVs