From the newsroom
A Nut Graph has nothing to do with going bonkers in a linear fashion, contrary to what the words imply. Though I’m sure many editors in a newsroom have felt the need to do just that on most days!
A TOUGH NUT DECODED
A nut graph is a shrinkage of the expression ‘nutshell paragraph’, or a perspective graph. In other words, the whole point of a story in a nutshell. It’s like a ‘so-what’ paragraph. It should let your readers know why your article/piece/blog is important or significant enough to be written, published and read.
I personally think it’s a great tool to get your readers hooked on to your article. If you can snag them with a catchy premise, they’re sure to stay with you as you draw up your conclusions. At the risk of sounding a bit old school out here, I’d say I like to see a nut graph in every piece of writing. It can even be incorporated with every kind of blog – be it a personal, business, self-help, school, or even a travel blog. If a few words can sum up the gist of your article, what’s not to love?
While in the traditional inverted-pyramid type of news stories you’re expected to pack in the five Ws (who, what, when, why, where) and one H (how) in the lead, in features and blog posts with a more narrative style, you can let the story breathe a little. First get the attention of your readers with a short scene, an anecdote, a question or a bit of dialogue. Then follow that up with a nut graph a few paragraphs later and elaborate on it. But don’t place it so deep into the piece that you lose your readers’ interest.
Here’s an example from a recent news clip from travel.cnn.com:
(Lead) Travelers looking for eye candy on holiday can forget about Asia, Africa, Australasia and any of the Pacific islands. A survey voted on by Americans has picked out British men and Colombian women as the world’s sexiest, with the top 10 nations on each list dominated by Europe and South America.
(Nut graph) British men will be applauding Misstravel.com for finally putting some science behind what they’ve been proclaiming about themselves ever since Roger Moore strapped on a leather holster and destroyed female inhibition with a single eyebrow.
And another from The New York Times:
(Lead) The hot dog has always been tightly tethered to New York City in the public imagination. As a result, few Americans (not to mention New Yorkers) know that just across the Hudson River, on the hills and shores of New Jersey, this small beast ranges freely, with a welter of variations and a certain abandon.
(Nut graph) In that spirit of freedom, I decided that a road trip was in order: a marathon run, before the backyard-and-ballpark season ends, to many of New Jersey’s most respected hot-dog joints, to see how many varieties I could find.
I’m not a big fan of hotdogs, but I’m still going to read this piece till the end more out of curiosity to see just how variable a sausage stuck between two wedges of long bread can be!
So there, the nut graph served its purpose – it has my attention.
An afternoon daily that I was associated with till recently had a bunch of interning cub reporters on the team, who’d pitch their story ideas with a lot of enthusiasm and animation to convince the editors for a go-ahead. But most often when their stories came in, the written word wasn’t half as exciting or convincing as their initial pitch. They’d tend to lack summarizing the fundamental premise of their article with a nut graph, hence missing the main point.
Admittedly, it’s a tough nut to crack, but once you’ve got it down, it elevates your writing to the level of a finely honed craft. I’d recommend first working out the nut graph of your article, that way you know what your premise is, and you can go on to elaborating or drawing conclusions from it in subsequent paragraphs.
GETTING TO THE KERNEL
A story without a nut graph is like a walking through a desert without a path: you know you’re going someplace, you’re just not sure where. The nut graph supplies that direction. It tells readers, ‘this is what my story is about, this is why you should care, this is why you should keep reading.”
US-based Poynter Institute explains several purposes of a nut graph
– It justifies the story by telling readers why they should care.
– It provides a transition from the lead and explains the lead and its connection to the rest of the story.
– It often tells readers why the story is timely.
-It often includes supporting material that helps readers see why the story is important.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what to say in a nut graph, chances are you haven’t quite made up your mind what you’re writing about! Here’s a tip: Find someone unfamiliar with the piece you’re working on. Then explain to them, as concisely as you can, what the story is about and why they – or any other potential reader – should care. If you can summarize the piece in a sentence or two, you (a) have a good grasp of the idea and (b) should be able to turn what you just verbalized into a nut graph.
HOW TO WRITE AN EFFECTIVE NUT GRAPH
– Think of it as an “elevator pitch”, where you have 60 seconds to convince readers of the value proposition of your writing. So keep it short and sweet. As with the rest of the article, try and use concise, direct sentences.
There’s no standard format or formula to writing a nut graph, so use your creativity to write it the best way to inform, educate and entertain your readers. But don’t get too carried away, provide only the relevant information and keep the nut graph separate from the lead.
Since you would have already dealt with the ‘who, what, when, where, why and how’ of the situation or event in your lead, concentrate more on answering the, “Who cares?” or “and so” questions in the nut graph.
While it’s ok to place the nut graph a bit further down in an article or blog post, as compared to having it immediately follow the lead in a news report, it shouldn’t be placed any further into the article than the sixth paragraph. If your blog post comprises of just three to four paragraphs, the nut graph needn’t take up a whole paragraph. Try and summarise it in a sentence or two at the onset.
Because if you haven’t already stated the premise of the article by then, you’ve lost your reader.