I am writing a technical thesis with quite a few figures, tables and equations. These items break up the "flow" of the document. To mitigate this some journals suggest placing such items at the top or bottom of the page or column in which they occur.

In attempting to do this in MS Word a problem arises where as paragraphs, by default, split across page breaks; placing an item at the top or bottom of the page would mean inserting it mid-paragraph (or even mid-sentence) and so essentially creating two smaller paragraphs.

So would it be recommended to continue to pursue this formatting by setting MS Word to not allow paragraphs to break across page breaks, which results in figs etc more easily placed at the top or bottom, but leaving some pages with white space at the bottom of pages. Or should I make figure placement more flexible and prevent the white space introduced on some pages?

To clarify: better figure/table/equation placement or pages completlyu full with no white space at the end of some pages...

  • Are you submitting a manuscript? Then figures, tables, and such should be placed in an appendix and their approximate place indicated in text. Or are you required to do the layout of your text yourself? Then follow the style guide the publisher gave you and don't worry about what it looks like. In Word, format the paragraphs to allow or dissallow "widows" and "orphans" according to the style guide (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Widows_and_orphans). If you don't know how to do that, look here: support.office.com/en-us/article/…
    – user5645
    Sep 22, 2016 at 10:10
  • In professional publications, figures and tables are usually not part of the text but placed on the page with the text flowing around it. Since an these objects have a numbered title (e.g. "Figure 3" or "Table 72") you can refer to them in text, even if they aren't near that reference, maybe even on a different page. Look at a textbook to see how they do it. Do the same.
    – user5645
    Sep 22, 2016 at 10:13

1 Answer 1


Don't be afraid of white space. It's easier for comprehension not to break a paragraph or sentence mid-thought. I would rather have a big chunk of white space at the bottom of a page and then see the table at the top of the next page, where it made sense in the flow of reading, than have to interrupt my reading to double back and look at a graphic.

Put the tables/figures etc. where they fit in context and don't worry about big gaps. (For what it's worth, I'm also a typesetter who's done a lot of financial documents with tables and figures, and this would be my answer on Graphic Design SE too.)

  • OTOH, splitting a long paragraph of plain text over two pages is nothing wrong. Sure if you leave 2-3 lines dangling on either side it's better moved to the other page, but if you have a choice between leaving 15 empty lines at the end of a page or just splitting a 30-line paragraph in half, choose splitting.
    – SF.
    Feb 6, 2013 at 14:39
  • @SF. I'm saying that's a matter of reading comprehension and aesthetics. I worked with clients who preferred exactly what you suggest, and those who didn't. If my project is in Word, I would prefer the big blank space. If I were using InDesign, I would split the paragraph or wrap the graphic somehow. There's nothing inherently wrong with splitting the paragraph as long as it's clear what text the figure goes with. But if I'm working in Word, I would choose not to split it because I think it will read better. InDesign would give me more flexibility to split the text but keep it readable. Feb 6, 2013 at 15:43
  • I meant "If there are no figures, tables or other non-text elements nearby..." - If there's just text, split it. If the split would place any non-text elements in dubious positions relative to the paragraphs, don't split.
    – SF.
    Feb 6, 2013 at 16:17
  • @SF. Sure, but the question is specifically about text with non-text elements, so that was the question I answered. If there are no non-text elements, of course you can break a paragraph. (There are rules about that too, but that's a graphic design question, not a writing question.) Feb 6, 2013 at 17:14

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