What Is a Sidebar?

Definition & Examples of a Sidebar

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In writing, a sidebar is a shorter piece of text that appears next to and accompanies a longer article. It is often graphically separate but related to the main idea. Sidebars can appear in publications such as magazines, newspapers, websites, or blogs.

Learn more about what topics sidebars can cover and how to get a sidebar assignment as a freelance writer.

What Is a Sidebar?

A sidebar is a block of supplemental text that appears next to a main article in a magazine, newspaper, or website. It relates to, expands, and adds value to the article it accompanies.

A sidebar can either be a necessity in order for an article to be complete, or it may simply be a function of extra space that needs to be used in a magazine or newspaper layout.

This does not mean that the content of a sidebar is irrelevant or "filler." Whatever is in a sidebar must be on-topic and provide the reader with additional resources or information.

While originally the purview of print media only, the sidebar now appears in online articles as well, though not as often.

Many websites and blogs have permanent sidebars that contain resources, links, or additional information about the topics the website covers. These are different from the sidebars in magazines and newspapers, which are written to accompany the articles in that specific issue.

Alternate names: boxout, call-out box, filler

How a Sidebar Works

A sidebar always appears on the side of an article. There is no standard for whether it appears on the right or left side, and a single article may have multiple sidebars if it is long enough.

A sidebar can be anywhere from a few sentences to a complete and separate page. It may either complement or contrast the article it accompanies. Freelance writers can brainstorm potential sidebars asking questions like:

  • What is an additional perspective?
  • What am I leaving out that a person might want to know?
  • What specific examples or resources can accompany this piece?

In addition to providing extra context or supplemental information, sidebars also provide visual relief in print media. They may be used to break up long boxes of text that become burdensome for the reader and prevent an even flow of reading. 

They can also be used to catch the eye of the reader as they flip through the printed piece or view it online. Sidebars often contain interesting graphics, photos, or product recommendations to accompany their text.

A sidebar should be relatable to the main body of work, and will often number between 100 and 400 words.

Do I Need a Sidebar?

If you are pitching an article, you can also suggest a few sidebar topics to pair with it. Sidebars usually pay separately from the main article, which means a sidebar can increase your fee per assignment. Suggesting a few sidebar options also shows editors that you have done your research on a topic and considered the needs and questions of the reader.

When pitching a sidebar, consider suggesting one that:

  • Shows a dissenting opinion
  • Offers resources for further information
  • Shares a real-life example or personal story related to the article's topic
  • Gives an expert's viewpoint or recommendations
  • Answers frequently asked questions on the topic

How to Get a Sidebar Assignment

An editor may request sidebars to accompany your assignment. Writers can also suggest possibilities when pitching a story.

It's not uncommon for a writer to be asked to write a sidebar to accompany another writer's article. This should not be perceived as an insult or poor reflection on the original writer's ability.

Editors often assign sidebars and articles to multiple writers because the assignment in question is an especially important piece. It may also be because one writer has expertise in the information that needs to go into the sidebar or a contrasting opinion to share. 

Key Takeaways

  • In writing, a sidebar is a shorter piece of text that appears next to and accompanies a longer article.
  • Sidebars can appear in publications such as magazines, newspapers, websites, or blogs.
  • Sidebars can feature dissenting opinions, additional resources, real-life examples, or expert viewpoints.
  • An editor may request a sidebar to accompany an assignment, or writers can suggest possible sidebars when pitching a story.