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Sidebar Savvy: How to Write a Side Bar that Adds Value to an Article

A sidebar is a short article, set apart, that accompanies a longer article. 

Editors love side bars because they add value to an article. Readers love side bars because they're skimmable and offer quick information. Side bars supplement the main piece with extra content that may not fit in the flow of the main article but may be helpful to the reader.

Side bars are also called “boxouts,” “call out boxes,” or “fillers.” (To be fair, a filler also known as a short-short standalone article.) Graphically, they appear on the side of the page or screen as a pullout or box.  

Why Write a Sidebar?

To Offer a Quick Read

Sidebars are reader-friendly in an easy-to-digest snapshot.

To Offer an In-Depth Read

20 ideas for sidebars with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #WritingChecklists #WritingArticles

In contrast with the “main bar” - the main article - which covers who, what, where, when, why, and how, a side bar allows you to develop one aspect of a bigger story with a fresh twist or a detour. This is one place where you’re allowed to follow a rabbit trail with your words – as long as the side bar content complements the main piece.

To Offer an Additional Read

Feature stories, breaking news, and in-depth profiles present a writer’s dilemma: too much raw material to include within the scope of the piece and in keeping to word count limits. Sidebars offer the extra content as add-ons. As an extra bonus for writers, juicy sidebars can provide the basis to write another article or even a series. An editor may even ask you to write a sidebar for another writer’s article. 

How to Write a Sidebar for an Article

1.  Choose Side Bar Content

Choose content that adds value to the main piece. The Cardinal Rule of Writing Sidebars: don’t duplicate or rehash the article content. 

Focus on just one element per side bar. 

The key question to answer: does the side bar content supplement what is already in the main article? If the answer is yes, then a side bar is a good choice. 

2. Construct the side bar

  • Write a concise headline using active verbs.
  • Follow the publication’s side bar word count limits. Most are 100-400 words. 
  • Use short sentences or bullet points. Where possible, include plenty of white space as graphic relief for the eyes.

20 Ideas for Sidebars

  • Biography
  • Discography
  • Excerpt 
  • Flashback
  • Images 
  • Infographics
  • Interview or Opinion
  • List of Publications
  • Poll
  • Quiz
  • Quotes
  • Reading List
  • Recipes
  • Resource List
  • Short article 
  • Statistics or Calculations
  • Instructions
  • Testimonials
  • Timeline
  • Top 10 List

Two Other Kinds of Sidebars

An article side bar not to be confused with two other types of side bars: 

  • a side issue in a conversation 
  • the secondary content area on a website, usually positioned as a strip on the side of the page to hold additional elements

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