How much control over line breaks should I exercise in a formal letter?

  1. I have a quote of the text of an email message, which includes a standard US-style phone number including area code. Right now it's breaking naturally right before the last four-digit group.

    It looks funny to me but on the other hand, breaking before the phone number, which ends the sentence, looks pretty bad too. So I'd like to know what the standard or common convention is for this. Because this is a quote of an email message I can't fudge by, for example, putting parentheses around the area code. I have to quote the email verbatim.

    What I could do is increase the indenting on the quoted text just enough to make the word wrap more felicitous but before I do that I'd like to understand what the convention is for breaking phone numbers.

  2. I have a long-ish paragraph in the middle of the page, which ends with the word "up", and another paragraph below it on the page. Seeing that lonely word ending the paragraph bothers me, but maybe this is normal and I should convince myself to get used to it?

  • Which is it a letter or an email message?? "Letter" typically refers to print. And if email, it's it plain text or HTML? And why HTML if so?
    – Scott
    Feb 12, 2018 at 16:13
  • @Scott From reading the question it seems like he's talking about typesetting. I don't think media matters much since it's a formatting question. The only difference between print/email would be using line breaks or just using returns. Feb 12, 2018 at 16:32
  • 1
    @Ovaryraptor medium does matter... emails should not be controlled to a great degree, especially plain text. Printed letters can be adjusted far more than HTML can.. I assure you delivery medium matters. If one is concerned at all about line breaks, the medium should also be a concern.
    – Scott
    Feb 12, 2018 at 16:37
  • @Scott - It's a formal letter. I will be submitting it as a pdf via email. The recipient will print a hard copy. Feb 12, 2018 at 17:36

2 Answers 2


For typesetting you almost NEVER break-up important things like:

  • Addresses
  • Names
  • Phone Numbers

For dealing with widows, orphans and line breaks, they will happen. You should try at all costs to avoid them but to work around breaking up important lines of text sometimes you must make sacrifices.

I would ensure that you are using the correct justification for your medium (probably should be left) and then work on your line length. You are looking for a nice long, short, long, short variation to break up the paragraph to be visually different which enhances readability.

As a golden rule you look for 9-12 words/line roughly.

In general, I would read up on general typography rules. This article goes over how to visually compose text nicely which should help you a lot.

The main take-away for your I think is this:

The final factor to take into account when deciding upon the appropriate line length is the nature of the actual text. For instance, some content – such as medical text – might involve many longer words, lending itself to a wider column width to avoid excessive hyphenations. On the other hand, text used for children and young readers might involve many short words, allowing for a narrower column.

For Email vs Print

In essence they operate mostly the same. You want to start off with the good base rules of good typography. After you have your base text set-up you can then test for responsiveness on mobile/web and alter your text with css using <br /> and <span>.

  • Thank you. I understood that the phone number should not be broken. I didn't understand about the short word at the end of the paragraph, "up," by itself on the last line of the paragraph -- was my gut instinct correct, that I should make adjustments so as to avoid this? Feb 12, 2018 at 17:39
  • @aparente001 Yes your gut was correct, you generally try to avoid orphans. See my answer again for more information and perhaps read through the link I posted as well. Feb 12, 2018 at 17:43
  • I've read that different people define "orphan" differently. Also, your link doesn't talk explicitly about orphans. So thanks for following up. Feb 12, 2018 at 18:19
  • @aparente001 No it doesn't but it goes through every step to AVOID them. Updated my answer with a more information. Feb 12, 2018 at 18:22

@Ovaryraptor has a solid answer with respect to print. I can't add much to that, other than to perhaps provide a little trick.... margins. If you find you've got several widows/orphans you don't want. Adjust the margins slightly rather than changing tracking/kerning for a single line/paragraph. A reader isn't really going to consciously acknowledge margins, but they may offer you some more room to play with line breaks.

For email...

  • If plain text: you can really only play with max column width. Many email client provide a "line wrap" or "Line length" or "column width" preference. It's usually denoted by a character count - i.e. "wrap text at 70 characters" This will basically hard wrap plain text at that set width. I generally use 80 characters and it's pretty good. If necessary you might consider dropping it to a slightly smaller character count to allow different wrapping on send. However, overall you shouldn't bee too concerned with line wraps in plain text emails. All email clients will read the plain text differently and you really can't control much once the email leaves your system.
  • For HTML emails you can use responsive type sizes setting a max width for columns and then using type sizes such as vh or vw (viewport height/viewport width) to adjust type sizes. More Info. Breaks can be a difficult issue. See here for a question regarding responsive line breaks. It's a few years old and sinc that time I've found the best practice for myself is to use <br class="break"> then use the class with display: none; to hide teh line breaks on smaller devices.

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