The Renegade Writer

6 Fantastic Sidebar Ideas to Add interest to Your Articles

sidebarYou know your editors will love you if you suggest sidebar ideas in your pitches or include them in your articles — but you’re stumped.

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!

Sep 2, 2013 Advice, Writing

8 Responses

  1. Great ideas. If a topic has any specialist lingo, those make great sidebars. I sold a travel piece on Southern restaurants with a sidebar defining Southern food terms — sawmill gravy, cracklins, etc.

  2. Jenni Hart says:

    I once published a piece about a political scandal and used a sidebar to give a timeline of events. It helped me keep the article focused. I love the survey idea! It never would have occurred to me to conduct my own survey!

  3. Hugh Smith says:

    Great ideas, thank you! I wonder if there are any wordpress plugins that could add sidebars to a blog page.

  4. Margie MD says:

    For a fitness story on whitewater rafting, I included a sidebar mentioning a few scenic spots around the U.S. to go whitewater rafting, along with a difficulty rating for each. Listing great places to travel to (museums, historic sites, etc.) to learn more about the topic could also work depending on the type of story.

  5. Alexander John says:

    A quote and tip side bar is an amazing idea! Give even more value to your readers. The more value the better.

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