It’s hard enough coming up with an article idea without having to generate multiple sidebars too!
Here’s a handy guide on the types of sidebars you can try. When you need one, pick and choose from this list.
(And for those of you who aren’t sure what a sidebar is: It’s extra information that’s set apart from your article copy in a box. Read your favorite magazine and you’re likely to see sidebars with many of the articles.)
1. The Quiz Sidebar
A short quiz that tests the reader on the topic of your article will draw her in and help her assimilate the information you’ve shared. Check out this guest post on quizzes I ran earlier this year for more info on how to create one.
2. The Extra Info Sidebar
Writing an article on how to declutter your home and one of your sources mentioned a neat historical fact about housecleaning? A source for an article on small business marketing brought up a marketing tactic that doesn’t quite fit the theme — but is still cool?
Sometimes you end up with some interesting info on your topic that doesn’t fit into the main copy — but you hate to waste it. Turn it into a sidebar!
3. The Resources Sidebar
Readers love knowing about additional resources to learn more about your topic or to take action on it — such as books, websites, and organizations.
For example, in an article I wrote about Tourette’s and transient tics in kids for Redbook, I included a sidebar with helpful books about Tourette’s and organizations readers could contact for guidance.
4. The Quote Sidebar
For an article that relies more on anecdotes from “real people” than on expert quotes, include a sidebar with expert advice. Your editor may also want you to get headshots of the experts that the magazine will include next to each quote.
You can do the same thing in the opposite way: Develop a sidebar of quotes from “people on the street” with their experiences or tips on your topic, with a headshot from each source. (Your editor will let you know if she wants photos, but you can always suggest it.)
5. The Tip Sidebar
If your article is big on service (the how-to aspect of an article that gives readers actionable advice), offer a sidebar with a quick list of additional tips.
An article on plyometric exercise, for example, might include a sidebar telling readers how to perform the exercises safely — like how to modify exercises that are too hard, and what signs to watch out for that they’re doing them incorrectly.
Or if you’re writing an article on lowering your energy bills, the sidebar could be extra tips on weatherproofing your home.
6. The Survey Sidebar
If you have access to a big group of people — and with the Internet, who doesn’t? — you can survey them on the topic of your article and include the stats as a sidebar.
For example, say you’re writing an article on how to improve your marriage. You can use social media to attract women from around the country to a SurveyMonkey survey on the state of their marriage. Then you’ll have stats for a sidebar such as, “64% of the women we surveyed are ‘happy’ or ‘very happy’ with their marriages” and “Only 12% of women in our survey spend more than 30 minutes a day just relaxing and communicating with their spouses.”
This is something you can suggest in your query, or, if you already have an assignment, you can bring it up to your editor for her OK. Not all magazines will go for this, and you don’t want to waste your time on a big survey only to find that your sidebar idea won’t fly!
Looking for more info? Here’s a good article on sidebar basics from the Long Ridge Writers Group.
It’s your turn: Have you thought of a sidebar type I’m missing? Have you ever written a really cool sidebar? Let us know in the Comments below!