How to Correct Bad Breaks in a Manuscript

When a manuscript is laid out, many unpleasant errors can appear that would not have shown up when viewing the text in Word. One of these errors is the introduction of bad breaks. Bad breaks occur when a word is broken in a place that makes it hard to read or hard for the eye to follow.

Many publishers "stet" (another word for ignore--"let stand as set") most bad breaks. But if you are choosy about how words appear on the page, here are some guidelines to follow to fix bad breaks.

First, know how to spot a bad break. A good way to find them quickly is to scan the right margin of the page for hyphenated words and check each word to be sure it is hyphenated correctly.

Watch for the two-letter break. This occurs when a word is broken so only two letters fall on the next line. Example: "The fox jumped over the dog quick- ly. The dog didn't see it coming." This can be easily changed by a layout designer, who will shift the spacing lightly until the word falls completely on the first line.

Be on the lookout for the double-hyphen break. This occurs when a hyphenated word is broken again. Example: "The dog was not as quick-wit- ted as the fox." This can also be easily fixed by the layout designer.

Beware the dictionary break. You would only know it is a bad break if you know how the word is broken in the dictionary. This break is often stetted, but if you see a word broken in an odd spot, it may be worth checking. Example: "The sheep ble- ated to its lambs."

Understand the URL break. Often, hyphens get introduced when URLs are broken. It is always important to check URLs to see whether or not the hyphen belongs there. Additionally, URLs should only be broken between words, before a period and after a dash or slash.

Heed the page-turn break. In some cases, you may not want a word to break at the end of a page. This is often true for right-hand pages (recto pages), because a break here forces the reader to turn the page to finish reading the word.


It is up to the editor to decide how strict to be about bad breaks. He may choose to mark all of them, some of them or none at all. Also, he may choose to mark breaks that aren't "bad" according to any definition above, but which may appear odd.

If you're working within a tight deadline, stet bad breaks when you can. It takes some time to scan for them, and most readers don't notice them.

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