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You hear the term “Sidebar” sometimes when people talk about writing articles. What is it and do you need one for all my articles?
A sidebar is a short companion story that is a part of a longer feature story. It is sometimes boxed or set in a different typeface to set it apart. It may appear to the side of the original article, within it, or at the end.
Today’s face-paced readers enjoy these little pieces of information that can be read quickly and separately from a longer piece. It usually provides additional information that can be easily used or digested. Helpful information that a reader can use as a “take-home” bit of help.
A sidebar can break up an otherwise lengthy article into one decent sized piece and a couple of smaller sidebars. Not every article must have it, but editors love them and it may make the difference between a sale or not, that little extra oomph that pushes your piece into the acceptance pile.
When researching for an article, you may find that you have too much information for the piece, but some of that information is fun, informative, or interesting and you know the readers will enjoy it. While querying a magazine, suggest a sidebar or two with this extra information. You may end up selling a longer piece with a larger check coming your way.
So, what could you put into a sidebar?
Perhaps your personal experience article on raising dogs used for helping the hearing impaired would have a sidebar that includes the many ways such dogs help their new masters or statistics of how many people with disabilities use animals as helpers and companions.
An article on the importance of learning to handle stress properly might include a sidebar quiz on “How Do You Handle Stress?”
My article on the different ways children learn included a sidebar with a how-to for parents to encourage and challenge their child in each of the learning abilities.
A fact-filled article on nutrition for adult diabetics could include a sidebar on your own first experiences with shopping nutritionally. An article in a magazine that discussed projects that families could make to provide entertainment and affection for their pets included a sidebar that told how the author’s daughter devised a sign to remind the family when the cats and been fed or needed to be fed.
My article on the importance of laughter in our lives included a sidebar that listed ten ways to give yourself a laugh. Another sidebar listed the health benefits of laughter to various parts of our body.
Such sidebars would give readers places to find more information on the subject you are writing about. This could include organizations and their addresses, website URLs, books, festivals or events that relate to this topic, etc. A resource sidebar on an article about the most professional way to find a literary agent might include a list of agents for that genre, or a list of books that give information on agents, websites that promote legitimate agents and warn against those who are less than desirable, and so on. An article for writers on selling to regional markets included a sidebar of internet sources for finding such markets.
Experts lend a great deal of legitimacy to articles. Sometimes a personal experience article, how-to, or essay type piece might not include such experts, but a sidebar with quotes from an expert on that topic or idea enhances the piece and may help the reader to agree more with what you as an author have said. When writing on safety issues, parenting issues, marriage, health, and more, some publications insist on having experts included. Several small sidebars that go along with the various topics in your piece help to break down sections and show the importance of what your article is stressing.
With a little extra work, sidebars can make your articles deeper, more involved, more interesting, and more helpful to your readers. What editor wouldn’t love that combination?