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Editing Tips: Stacks and Ladders Explained

Previously, we’ve looked at widows and orphans, which thankfully did not involve any husbands or parents dying. Today, we look at stacks and ladders, which will not involve any literal piling or climbing. What are these metaphorical stacks and ladders, then? And what do they have to do with proofreading? Check out our simple guide below to find out.

Stacks in Text

In typography, a “stack” is a set of three or more lines that start or end in the same word:

A stack in a passage of text.

Above, for instance, we’ve highlighted a stack of the word “this.” Seeing three lines in a row start with the same word like this can be distracting, so most typesetters try to avoid stacks.

Ladders in Text

A “ladder” in typography, meanwhile, is a stack of hyphens:

A ladder in a passage of text.

As shown above, this occurs most often when dealing with word divisions at the ends of lines. And as with word stacks, most publishers prefer to avoid ladders in typeset texts.

What to Do with Stacks and Ladders

So, as a proofreader, what should you do if you spot a stack or and ladder in a text?

First, we should note that stacks and ladders are not typically a problem if you’re copy editing a document in a word processor (e.g., with Track Changes in Microsoft Word). In all likelihood, if the client plans to publish the text formally, they will have it typeset first. And this means any stacks and ladders you spot in the draft document should be removed in the final version.

However, if you’re proofreading a typeset or otherwise static text (e.g., marketing materials in PDF form), you will want to watch for stacks and ladders. And if you spot any, you should leave a comment noting the issue for your client (and suggest a solution if you have one).

The client will then be able to send your notes to the typesetter, who will fix the problems.

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