An advice columnist writes a column, either for the print media or online, in which he or she provides useful tips and advice. Generally, advice columnists use their columns to answer questions posed by readers. There are as many different varieties of advice columnist as there are types of question to be asked, but a large number of these writers address questions having to do with relationships. Etiquette, technical issues, and medical issues also receive similar treatment.
Advice columns are inexpensive to produce and engage reader interest, and have therefore been staples of the newspaper business for almost as long as there has been a newspaper business. Early examples appeared in print in the 1700s, and offered comfort and suggestions to readers, primarily women, facing romantic difficulties. As the circulation of newspapers grew in the 19th century, and as an emerging middle class was increasingly interested in reading human interest stories, these columns proliferated.
The most famous advice columnists in American history are almost certainly the Friedman sisters. These identical twins wrote the columns "Dear Abby" and "Ask Ann Landers." Both were widely successful and ran in many American papers, but were tied to two Chicago papers where the two sisters maintained a friendly rivalry. These two columns, and other similar columns, relied on questions submitted by readers. These advice columnists published selected letters, with responses that attempted to provide support and useful advice.
Modern advice columnists have expanded the original model, which dealt mostly with questions of romance and manners, and began to address the theme of sexuality as well. Dan Savage, the author of the column "Savage Love," was one of the pioneers this new style of advice column. His columns mixed real advice with a good deal of edgy humor, and addressed issues that would have been taboo for an earlier generation of advice columnist. This frank discussion of sexuality emerged at many different points on the social spectrum, as columns offering similar advice from a Christian perspective have also proven to be successful.
The emergence of the Internet as a major form of communication has revolutionized the practice of writing advice columns. Whereas previously the support of a newspaper or magazine was necessary to work as an advice columnist, in the age of the Internet, anyone with a blog could potentially become an advice columnist. Although the audience for individual Internet columnists is generally smaller than that reached by columnists working in print media, many such columns exist and are widely read.