The Nut Graf

How to write a nut graf, or nut graph

Tell readers what you’re going to tell ’em

If I came to your house and told you to grab your things and follow me, how far would you go? To the front door? The driveway? Would you hop in my car without further explanation?

How to write a nut graf
Put the kernel of your story into a nutshell. That’s your nut graph. Image by kaanates

Home » Ann Wylie’s blog of writing tips » Writing and editing » Story structure » Feature Structure » Feature Leads » How to write a nut graf, or nut graph

How to write a nut graf, or nut graph

Tell readers what you’re going to tell ’em

If I came to your house and told you to grab your things and follow me, how far would you go? To the front door? The driveway? Would you hop in my car without further explanation?

How to write a nut graf
Put the kernel of your story into a nutshell. That’s your nut graph. Image by kaanates

No matter how dazzling your scene-setting feature lead, at some point, readers want to know where we’re going with this story. And that’s the job of the nut paragraph, aka the nut graf. (This, by the way, is the nut graph for this story.)

The nut graph is the transition from the lead. In the nut graph, writers and editors:

  • Explain the lead and its connection to the rest of the story
  • Reveal your destination, or the essential theme of the story
  • Set up the supporting material to explain the rest of the story
  • Explain why the story is important to convince your readers to come along for the ride

You don’t need a nut graph in news stories, but they’re essential in feature-style stories.

Let’s pause and ponder that for a minute too.

Here are four ways to crack the nut graph:

1. Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.

Remember the old writing guideline, “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em; then tell ’em what you told ’em?”

The nut graph is where you tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.

The nut graph — aka the “billboard” or the “so-what graph” — is where you put the story into a nutshell. It explains why the story is timely and provides the kernel, or central theme, of your piece.

“Once you find that idea or thread, all the other anecdotes, illustrations, and quotes are pearls that hang on this thread,” says Thomas Boswell, a Washington Post sports columnist. “The thread may seem very humble, the pearls may seem very flashy, but it’s still the thread that makes the necklace.”

So the first step to writing a nut graph is to find that thread. In other words, you need to figure out your point, or story angle.

2. Summarize your story angle in one sentence.

Home » Ann Wylie’s blog of writing tips » Writing and editing » Story structure » Feature Structure » Feature Leads » How to write a nut graf, or nut graph

How to write a nut graf, or nut graph

Tell readers what you’re going to tell ’em

If I came to your house and told you to grab your things and follow me, how far would you go? To the front door? The driveway? Would you hop in my car without further explanation?

How to write a nut graf
Put the kernel of your story into a nutshell. That’s your nut graph. Image by kaanates

No matter how dazzling your scene-setting feature lead, at some point, readers want to know where we’re going with this story. And that’s the job of the nut paragraph, aka the nut graf. (This, by the way, is the nut graph for this story.)

The nut graph is the transition from the lead. In the nut graph, writers and editors:

  • Explain the lead and its connection to the rest of the story
  • Reveal your destination, or the essential theme of the story
  • Set up the supporting material to explain the rest of the story
  • Explain why the story is important to convince your readers to come along for the ride

You don’t need a nut graph in news stories, but they’re essential in feature-style stories.

Let’s pause and ponder that for a minute too.

Here are four ways to crack the nut graph:

1. Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.

Remember the old writing guideline, “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em; tell ’em; then tell ’em what you told ’em?”

The nut graph is where you tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.

The nut graph — aka the “billboard” or the “so-what graph” — is where you put the story into a nutshell. It explains why the story is timely and provides the kernel, or central theme, of your piece.

“Once you find that idea or thread, all the other anecdotes, illustrations, and quotes are pearls that hang on this thread,” says Thomas Boswell, a Washington Post sports columnist. “The thread may seem very humble, the pearls may seem very flashy, but it’s still the thread that makes the necklace.”

So the first step to writing a nut graph is to find that thread. In other words, you need to figure out your point, or story angle.

2. Summarize your story angle in one sentence.

One of my J-school professors used to say, “If you can’t write your story angle on the back of my business card, you don’t know what your story’s about yet.”

To figure out what your story is about, write a one-sentence walkaway. That’s the one sentence you want your reader to — you got it! — walk away with after reading your piece. Then craft that so tightly that it will fit on the back of a business card:

Your walkaway sentence should answer the readers’ two most burning questions:

  1. What’s your point?
  2. Why should I care?

Stuck? Try telling a friend who knows nothing about the story what it’s about. Then capture that summary for your nut graph.

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