Tips for the nut grafYou’ve found a terrific opening to your story or article. Readers are interested and willing to keep reading to find out more. Where do you take them next?

The “nut graf” almost always follows the lead (also called a lede) and explains the news value of the story. Poynter says it’s called the nut graf “because, like a nut, it contains the ‘kernel,’ or essential theme, of the story. At The Philadelphia Inquirer, reporters and editors called it the ‘You may have wondered why we invited you to this party?’ section.” (I love that!)

Beyond the theme of the story, the nut graf says, without saying it in so many words, “This story is important to you because…” Don Ranly, professor emeritus of the Missouri School of Journalism, says it’s the nut graf, “high in the story, that sets the focus, the so-what, the WIIFM [what’s in it for me], the ROI [return on investment].”

Here is some advice from the experts on structuring your nut graf:

  • Find the focus; what the story is really about. Cut the elements that don’t support your focus. (Roy Peter Clark for Nieman Storyboard)
  • Questions to help you find the focus: Why is the story important? So what? Who does it affect? Why tell it now? Does your reader have questions you should answer?
  • Think of your story as five blocks: an introduction (20%), a three-part middle (60%) and an ending (20%). (Clark, HELP! for Writers)
  • Group the information “by subject matter into parts arranged in logical order.” (Don Fry via Ann Wylie)
  • From the strong opening lead, “move through the issues, ideas, themes or questions you need to address before closing your story on a strong note, often coming full circle.” (Ivor Shapiro, The Bigger Picture)
  • Plot a short outline (“simple sentences with action verbs and someone doing something”) where the action pushes the story forward to a conclusion. (Jon Franklin, Writing for Story)
  • Figure out how your readers would use your information, then organize by location (city to city, for instance), by alphabet, chronologically, by category or from most important to least important. (Ann Wylie)
  • Be aware that chronologically might not be the best approach; decide on the significance of events. For example, “At the conclusion of a city council meeting, if someone shoots the mayor, that would be your lede.” (Stephen G. Bloom)
  • Use the ABCDE formula: action, background, development, climax, ending. (Alice Adams via Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)
  • Keep paragraphs short. “Paragraphs generally are separate cells of information, the laying out of a specific element that leads to the overall theme, feeling, conclusion of your story…You should be hard-pressed to come up with a compelling reason for a long, meandering paragraph.” (Bloom)
  • Write toward an ending. (Clark)

As with interesting leads and expressive writing, look for examples in your reading. “Pay attention to good storytellers, whether they are writers or not, and understand their tricks and methods,” Bloom says.

Does this advice make sense to you? What other tips do you have?

Image: Radoslaw Prekurat on Unsplash.

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