How to Write a Sidebar

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A sidebar can draw the reader into the main article.
A sidebar can draw the reader into the main article. (Image: Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images)

A sidebar is a short, compelling article designed to accompany a longer article in a magazine or newspaper. Readers enjoy sidebars because they're quick reads and feature information that's helpful, informative or entertaining. Magazine and newspaper editors like them for similar reasons: They add value to the main article and entice the reader to read the longer piece.

Choose a Topic

The sidebar should complement the main story without duplicating the information. A sidebar usually takes a lighter or less complex approach to a topic than the story it accompanies. If the main story is about an abundant apple harvest in Ohio, a sidebar might include apple recipes. If the story accompanied by the sidebar is a hard news story, such as a story about a recent crime wave, the sidebar could include information about joining or forming neighborhood watch groups. Sidebars often break out aspects of a story that merit special attention -- information that might get lost in a long story.

Types of Sidebars

Once deciding on appropriate content for the sidebar, decide what form it should take. Types of sidebars include quizzes, "man on the street" commentary on the topic of the main story, resource lists; a short article that stands on its own but relates to the main story, recipes or instructions. The content should determine the form of the sidebar. Quizzes, recipes and instructions usually accompany lighter, magazine-style pieces.

Headline and Format

The sidebar's headline should be concise and grab a reader's attention. Active verbs are especially important in sidebars, both for the headline and content. Sentences should be brief -- lists and bulleted items work especially well in this format. According to Reuters, when a sidebar accompanies a news story, it is usually not updated, even when the main story is updated. When writing a sidebar to submit to a publication, double-space the manuscript and submit it on a separate page from the main article.

Keep It Short

The sidebar should be a brief, relatively easy read. For that reason, it should be short -- no more than 100 to 500 words long. The sidebar should always be shorter than the main article. For online publications in which articles generally have a shorter word count of around 500 words, the sidebar still has value as a quick reference point filled with relevant information. Make sure the sidebar has plenty of "white space" and no overly dense blocks of text.

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