September 16, 1997 / Copywriting / Coverage / Fall 1997

Short, not skimpy

Written by Kathy Craghead

Sidebar Copy Contains Key Writing Elements

It can be called alternative, quick-read or reader-friendly. But the one thing non- traditional copy cannot be called is easy.

A common misconception about writing a sidebar is that since it is shorter than a traditional feature story, it is easier to write. However, good sidebar copy has all the elements of a feature story, just in a condensed format.

A well-written sidebar is concise, informative and has a defined angle. The key elements of good sidebar copy are described in more detail below:

Angle.
Being too general will weaken the sidebar. Careful use of specifics adds interest. Also, be sure the angle is fresh by rejecting anything that comes immediately to mind. If it comes to mind right away, chances are the idea has been done.

Focus.
Do not try to include too much. Crowded sidebars are not reader- friendly. For example, do not try to cover every event for the Prom spread. Limit the focus to finances or after-Prom events, for example.

Source selection.
Give the copy credibility. For example, if the information is from a survey, be sure to give the total number of participants and the date the survey was taken. Fact inclusion. Reporting is an often-overlooked element. Interviewing and observation are crucial.

Word choice.
Brevity is essential. Never use two words where one will do. Self-edit.

Staffs sometimes commit their coverage to non-traditional copy believing they have made their workload easier. Not true. Good alternative coverage requires as much reporting as a regular feature story. It is only the format that changes.

What’s a sidebar?

Kathy Craghead

Kathy Craghead is a retired yearbook adviser from Mexico High School in Mexico, Mo., where the yearbook earned national honors. She was named the JEA Yearbook Adviser of the Year in 2003, and the yearbook earned state and national honors. She is a staff writer for the Mexico Ledger newspaper.