Advice column


An advice column is a column traditionally presented in a magazine or newspaper, though it can also be delivered through other news media, such as the internet and broadcast news media. The advice column format is question and answer: a (usually anonymous) reader writes to the media outlet with a problem in the form of a question, and the media outlet provides an answer or response. The responses are written by an advice columnist (colloquially known in British English as an agony aunt, or agony uncle if the columnist is male). The image presented was originally of an older woman dispensing comforting advice and maternal wisdom, hence the name "aunt". An advice columnist can also be someone who gives advice to people who send in problems to the newspaper.  

Many advice columns are now syndicated and appear in several newspapers. Prominent American examples include Dear Abby, Ann Landers, Carolyn Hax's Tell Me About It, and Daniel Mallory Ortberg's Dear Prudence. Internet sites such as the Elder Wisdom Circle offer relationship advice to a broad audience; Dear Maggie offers sex advice to a predominantly Christian readership in Christianity Magazine, and Miriam's Advice Well offers advice to Jews in Philadelphia.  

On the Internet, a greater variation on the signature theme is often seen: the person's signature may refer to the problem being expressed, but rather in a phrase which the 'agony aunt' abbreviates so as to spell an appropriate word. For instance, "Confused About My Partner" would become "CAMP". Dan Savage uses this method to comic effect in his Savage Love column.  

Advice columns on the Internet provide ways to share one's interests, experiences and expertise. Anyone can be a columnist and create their own advice column. Users can post questions for columnists to answer. Users can also interact with the columnist and with each other to voice their opinions. E-mailing advisers is popular because readers can open up their personal problems without exposing their identity to the world. Popular e-mail advisers include Aunt Vera and Annie.  

Advice columns generally have limited capacity and are unable to answer all the requests they receive. They could potentially be criticised for raising the hopes of their correspondents for commercial gain. For this reason, Marjorie Proops regarded it as a professional duty to answer all the letters received, whether or not they were published.