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How About A Sidebar With That?

June 17th, 2011

PhyllisBlogSidebars, an effective way to satisfy readers’ hunger for quick information, enhance articles the way side dishes add interest to meals.

Editors appreciate how they expand a manuscript’s take-away value while also helping to break up its text so that page lay-outs can be more visually appealing. These bite-size nuggets often whet busy readers’ appetites for the article’s “main course,” too.

Portion and presentation

Generally between 50 and 300 words, sidebars supplement an article with information delivered in a condensed, factual way, typically through lists, bulleted items, or very short paragraphs. Content can range from additional information about something mentioned in the article to a resource list or quiz designed to entice reader interest. While it expands on the topic, sidebar content also needs to be able to stand alone in case readers skip the main article.

Serve up variety

When researching a topic, we often uncover intriguing information too lengthy or marginal to include and sidebars can help feature some of this. They can also provide a quicker route to publication since they take less time to write, once you master their tightly constructed form.

Stand-alone sidebars, especially “lists,” are often a good way to break into many magazines, which are usually more willing to run shorter pieces. Proposing a sidebar or two with an article query may boost the chances of an assignment or sale—and even the amount you receive as payment.

Look for sidebar possibilities in any article you write. They prove that good things do come in small packages that can increase freelance success in a big way.


– more in-depth exploration of article content.

– related information not mentioned in article.

– material to tempt reader interest—quizzes, etc.

– means of localizing article topic for regional publication.

– tips or resources list related to the topic.

– instructions, more detailed information, glossary of terms.

– stand-alone, mini article in itself.


– appealing topic sufficiently related to main article.

– relevant, eye-catching title.

– length/format consistent with publication’s preferences.

– content accessible via lists or short items.

– word-count calculated separately from main article.

– double-spaced manuscript on separate page, contact information upper-left.


Phyllis Edgerly Ring’s articles have appeared in a variety of publications that include Delicious Living, Ms., and Writer’s Digest. Her latest book is titled Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details. For more information visit www.phyllisring.com.

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