I have a very strong, nagging suspicion that there is a specific term for what I am thinking of here, but I cannot for the life of me recall it.

In books, it is fairly common to see brief—or sometimes not so brief—bits of text (and sometimes illustrations) explaining or dealing in more detail with some point or notion mentioned in the main text, or giving factoids or tidbits about something that relates to the topic in the main text. These are frequently set off graphically from the rest of the text by being placed in a box, having a different background colour, being set in a different typeface, etc. They normally have their own, individual headers (often also in a different style from the regular headers in the copy), which show what it is in the copy they relate to.

I’m currently editing a book which is full of these, many of them being an entire page or spread set apart from the main flow of the text to talk about an interesting aside. The authors of the book have, quite unimaginatively, simply called them boxed texts in the manuscript, which seems to me a terrible cop-out.

What are these ‘boxed asides’ called?

I keep wanting to call them vignettes, but I don’t think that’s right—no dictionary I can find includes this meaning. Please tell me my mind isn’t playing tricks on me, and that there is an actual, proper (preferably single-word) term for them.


After scouring the books in the office, I managed to find one that uses these things: our old edition of Politiken’s etymological dictionary of Danish uses them to give more details about individual words (in some cases) and groups of related words. Some are just text, some are illustrated, usually with maps or family trees. Here is a scan of a spread that has two of them:

Scanned page with ‘info boxes’

The boxes have a faint, grey gradient background which didn’t come through very well in the scanned file, so I’ve added a nice, pink box around each of them to illustrate. As you can perhaps tell, they each relate to content that is on the page (the words knæsætte and ko, respectively), but as ‘boxes’ they are set apart from the text.

The boxes in this book—given its nature—are quite straightforward info boxes, but I do believe there is a term for the structural element that is function-agnostic… or at least I hope there is. In the book I’m currently editing, they are generally not info boxes, but contain anecdotes, personal letters, brief histories of companies or people or places, etc.

  • Are you thinking of a glossary? Sometimes they are illustrated.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 23 '16 at 13:02
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA No, a glossary is (usually, at least) more like a small dictionary at the back of the book explaining terms. What I’m thinking of is usually more like a mini-story of its own, often with pictures and everything, that is put within the running copy and is meant to be a kind of interesting tidbit for the reader to peruse when they find a good place to pause in their general reading. Jun 23 '16 at 13:06
  • If I understand the question correctly, examples abound on Wikipedia. Hiow about the roadside photo here or the sample notation here?
    – cobaltduck
    Jun 23 '16 at 13:33
  • @cobaltduck I’d say those are more an online equivalent of (numbered) figures, of which the book also has several hundred. Jun 23 '16 at 13:35
  • @Mari-LouA I managed to find an example. Not the best example (since it’s from a dictionary, so the function is quite different), but it’ll have to do. Jun 23 '16 at 13:35

I think the word you are seeking is sidebar.

  1. a typographically distinct section of a page, as in a book or magazine, that amplifies or highlights the main text.

Another example:

A brief section of text or another feature that appears alongside a more detailed discussion of a subject, often separated graphically in a box.

  • 2
    Sidebar is a good word, but it still suffers from the drawback that it is literally a bar of text on the side of a page, whereas what I have here is frequently an entire page, or even multiple spreads. Jun 24 '16 at 9:19
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Another definition of "sidebar" is, in a legal setting, a conference between the judge and lawyers outside the hearing of the main court. With that understanding, it's a "side conversation", regardless of how it's physically laid out on a page. It's not part of the main context, but is still important. Jun 24 '16 at 13:01
  • That is true; but in the context of a book—or in general, of layout on paper or screen—the other definition, which is specific to exactly that context, would overrule the legal one to any reader. Jun 24 '16 at 13:52
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    You seem to be getting hung up on a strict interpretation of "alongside" as being to the left or right, instead of "near" or "related to". @JanusBahsJacquet Jun 24 '16 at 15:28

It's not very exciting I'm afraid, but I believe this is the term that describes the graphic or text elements in your question.

Panels and box copy

Boxes are used as news items or as extensions to a long article in which you can place some other facts or data which are relevant to the article. These types of copy are generally shorter in length and have more factual tone. They can be in a form of a text, bulleted text or lists.

From the design point of view boxed text should be set in a different style than main body copy. Usually in sans-serif type since the box copy is not long and sans-serif type should be avoided for long dense text stories. Size should be around the same as main body copy. These boxes can have their own headlines and kickers. The headline should be few to several points larger than box copy and kicker should be set in the same size as box copy or few points bigger. You can use heavier type for headlines and kickers to emphasize them more.

Magazine Designing

On The Newspaper Designer's Handbook the term is even plainer

Box: A ruled border around a story or art.

enter image description here

  • Well, that at least shows that boxed text is a term in actual use, so +1 for that. It still has two drawbacks: a) ‘text box’ and variations isn’t something that’s likely to sound very inviting to the reader, and b) it sounds odd to call something a ‘box’ if it actually takes up three entire pages (as a few of the ones here do). Panel might work better, definitely by the first of those two problems, but even that doesn’t sound like something that may take up several pages. Jun 23 '16 at 14:02
  • It seems like these terms are also used for atomic sections of text (stories or other text that can be consumed on their own), but OP wants a term that explaining or dealing in more detail with some point or notion mentioned in the main text, or giving factoids or tidbits about something that relates to the topic in the main text.. I think this presumes a subordinate relationship of the "box copy"/"vignette"/whatever to nearby or surrounding text. Jul 30 '16 at 20:08
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    @DavidRivers Yes, the whatchamacallems that I've got in mind always have some kind of subordinate relationship to the main text—usually in the form of an aside or tangential remarks, but not always. Jul 30 '16 at 22:31

If the text box is pointing to a specific section of the main text, you might call it a callout:

In publishing, a call-out or callout is a short string of text connected by a line, arrow, or similar graphic to a feature of an illustration or technical drawing, and giving information about that feature. The term is also used to describe a short piece of text set in larger type than the rest of the page and intended to attract attention.

A similar device in word processing is a special text box with or without a small "tail" that can be pointed to different locations on a document.

  • 2
    Similarly, a breakout. Callout usually refers to the bit of text in the main body that directs the reader to look at something. Callouts don't actually have to reference anything contained in the document itself. They can refer to another document entirely. For example, you could reference the National Electric Code with a callout, (which should then be formally identified in an References section at the end.)
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 23 '16 at 17:03

This is a question I've asked myself many times as a graphic designer, typesetter and web designer. For the web, I needed to give such items a named class or ID. (These are never seen by the reader, but I'm a stickler for using good, descriptive names in my code.) Amongst the names I considered were sidebar and breakout. While sidebar was commonly used, like you I thought it implied a certain layout (a bar at the side of the page), and I wanted a semantic term, not a stylistic one. (The one I settled on was 'content-supp', an abbreviation of 'supplementary content'.)

When HTML5 came out, it tried to standardise these kinds of names, and the one they settled on was aside. The Mozilla Developer Network defines the HTML <aside> element thusly:

a portion of a document whose content is only indirectly related to the document's main content. Asides are frequently presented as sidebars or call-out boxes.

This implies a generic (semantic) term 'aside', which can be presented (styled) as a 'call-out', although I would say there's really nothing about the term 'call-out' that intrinsically defines a certain style—it could be a small box to the side, or it could take up the whole width of the page.

I'm not suggesting for one moment that the creators of HTML5 are the global authority on publishing or English semantics, but they obviously had to ask the same questions we did, knowing that these terms would be adopted henceforth by millions of developers, so I thought it worth adding to the discussion.

If popular usage matters, "aside box" returns 20,400 results in Google, while "call-out box" returns 42,300 results. ('Aside', by itself, is too generic a term to compare this way.) I'd say pick the one that sounds the best to you.


These sound like footnotes, albeit that they aren't positioned as such.

Footnote - A note, reference, or additional piece of information printed at the bottom of a page, used to explain or comment on something in the main body of the text on the same page (OED).

They also sound like addenda (albeit they too aren't usually positioned within the text!).

Addendum - A thing that is added, typically in order to correct, clarify, or supplement something, esp. an item added at the end of a book, an appendix. Also: an additional clause amending an agreement, a resolution, etc. Chiefly in plural (OED).

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