The Nut Graf

Nuts by Monofocus

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

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.

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.

Language We Use

What do we call people in prison or jail?

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2021/04/12/what-words-we-use-and-avoid-when-covering-people-and-incarceration

http://feeds.wnyc.org/onthemedia

Said and Stated

https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/keep-it-simple-keys-to-realistic-dialogue-part-ii

From the Associated Press Style Guide


Numbers

In general, spell out one through nine: The Yankees finished second. He had nine months to go. Use figures for 10 or above and whenever preceding a unit of measure or referring to ages of people, animals, events or things. Also in all tabular matter, and in statistical and sequential forms.

Use figures for:

ACADEMIC COURSE NUMBERS: History 6, Philosophy 209.

ADDRESSES210 Main St. Spell out numbered streets nine and under: 5 Sixth Ave.3012 50th St.No. 10 Downing St. Use the abbreviations Ave.Blvd. and St. only with a numbered address: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Spell them out and capitalize without a number: Pennsylvania Avenue.See addresses.

AGESa 6-year-old girlan 8-year-old lawthe 7-year-old house. Use hyphens for ages expressed as adjectives before a noun or as substitutes for a noun. A 5-year-old boy, but the boy is 5 years oldThe boy, 5, has a sister, 10. The race is for 3-year-olds. The woman is in her 30s. 30-something, but Thirty-something to start a sentence.

CENTURIES: Use figures for numbers 10 or higher: 21st century. Spell out for numbers nine and lower: fifth century. (Note lowercase.) For proper names, follow the organization’s usage.


COURT DECISIONS: The Supreme Court ruled 5-4, a 5-4 decision. The word to is not needed, except in quotations: “The court ruled 5 to 4.”

DATES, YEARS AND DECADES: Feb. 8, 2007, Class of ’66, the 1950s. For the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, 9/11 is acceptable in all references. (Note comma to set off the year when the phrase refers to a month, date and year.)

MILLIONS, BILLIONS, TRILLIONS: Use a figure-word combination. 1 million people; $2 billion, NOT one million/two billion. (Also note no hyphen linking numerals and the word millionbillion or trillion.)See millions, billions, trillionsdollars.MONETARY UNITS: 5 cents, $5 bill, 8 euros, 4 pounds.

SCHOOL GRADES: Use figures for grades 10 and above: 10th grade. Spell out for first through ninth grades: fourth grade, fifth grader.

SEQUENTIAL DESIGNATIONS: Page 1, Page 20A. They were out of sizes 4 and 5; magnitude 6 earthquake; Rooms 3 and 4; Chapter 2; line 1 but first line; Act 3, Scene 4, but third act, fourth scene; Game 1, but best of seven.See act numberschaptersearthquakesline numberspage numbersscene numbers.

POLITICAL DISTRICTSWard 9, 9th Precinct, 3rd Congressional District.See congressional districtspolitical divisions.–

Recipes2 tablespoons of sugar to 1 cup of milk.See recipes.SPEEDS: 7 mph, winds of 5 to 10 mph, winds of 7 to 9 knots.

(Read More)

Active Writing Exercise

Active Writing Exercise

This is not a quiz. You will not be graded. Do your best

  1. This paragraph is from the Daily News.  Use the active voice to make it better. You can break it up into more than one or two sentences.

The Empire State is one step closer to approving adult use marijuana after Gov. Cuomo released an amended version of his pot proposal Tuesday that would reduce criminal penalties for illegal sales, outlines how some of the tax revenue would be spent and allows for the delivery of cannabis products.

  •   This is from Vice. Use the active voice to make it better.

         At least 2.3 million women have been forced from the workforce during the pandemic, many due to closed schools and a lack of child care.

So after one Ohio mother was arrested on charges of child endangerment for allegedly leaving her young kids in a motel room while she tried to go to her job at Little Caesars, sympathetic people rallied to support her.

  •  This is from me.  Take out the clunky words and phrases and use the active voice to explain the problem.

Currently my boss won’t give me the extra money he promised and I really need the money and the job due to COVID and due to the fact that there are so few jobs available.

  • From the New York Post. Use the active voice and rewrite the story.

      Ryan Leaf is calling for the NFL to do more for retired players in the wake of Vincent Jackson’s death.

Jackson, 38, was found dead in a Florida hotel room by a housekeeper on Monday morning. There were no apparent signs of trauma, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Police are investigating and a cause of death has yet to be determined by the county medical examiner.

  • This is from the New York Times. Use the active voice to rewrite it.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Admitting a degree of fault for the first time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday that his administration’s lack of transparency about the scope of coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes in New York was a mistake.

How We Write

Videographer at the U.S. open with a live camera shooting the audience.

When you sit down to write make, sure that each sentence reflects what you mean. Use active verbs and write clear concise sentences that convey your ideas.

Active Voice

The subject comes first in an active sentence.

Examples

Senate Republicans proposed a substantially scaled-back stimulus plan.

The city’s police chief and several of his department’s highest ranking officials resigned or were demoted on Tuesday in the aftermath of the death of Daniel Prude.

The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca halted large late-stage global trials of its coronavirus vaccine because of a serious suspected adverse reaction in a participant.

Murals thanking frontline workers  popped up in neighborhoods all over New York during the pandemic.

Always look for an active verb to give your writing more energy.

Example:Avoid the passive “to be” verbs: be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been.

Passive Voice

Murals thanking frontline workers were put up in neighborhoods all over New York during the pandemic.

You can use the passive verbs be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been when the subject of the action becomes the object.

Example:

Many Washington Heights residents are forced to move to other neighborhoods because landlords found tenants willing to pay higher rents.

We use the “to be” verbs to describe a state of being.

Example:

Dayan is a junior in college.

Have

We use variations of the word have when we use it, like must, can or have.

Jorge has to reapply for DACA by October 5, 2017.

We might also use a passive verb when we talk about ongoing action.

Example

The student was reading a textbook when the alarm bell sounded and everyone had to leave the classroom.

Pretentious Language 

Sure, you may think it sounds better to use flowery language and fussy words. But you end up sounding pretentious.

Example

When the scions of the elderly gentleman thought he had a female paramour, they pondered about their fortunes if he were to suddenly become deceased.

Use language that says what you mean.

Example

The children of the older man thought he had a girlfriend and worried about their inheritance if he died suddenly.

Catch phrases, Cliches and Euphemism

You may think you can make a sentence sound important if you use phrases or words that only suggest what you mean. But fussy sentences confuse readers, listeners and viewers.

Fussy                                                  Clear

economically deprived                  poor

youths                                               teenagers, young men, young women, young people,

chemical dependency                  drug addiction

downsize                                          lay off

adult entertainment                      pornography

inner city                                          give the name of the neighborhood

You also want to avoid fussy words that connect ideas

however

furthermore

nevermore

nevertheless

Avoid the Negative

Write sentences that avoid the negative.

Example

President Trump not only picked a fight with NFL players who choose to protest, he ignored the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Better

President Trump picked a fight with NFL players who chose to protest and ignored Puerto Rico’s hurricane victims.

Writing Numbers

Write out numbers one through nine.

Write number 10 and up as you would in math.

Writing Percentages

Write percent rather than %.

Full Names and Acronyms

When you write for print, TV or radio, you separate the full name of an organization and its acronym with the word or, or commas.

Example

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACCA.

When you write for the web you put the acronym in parentheses.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Our Style Guide

Pen Susan McQuaid, Courtesy Pixabay
  1. Write your slug- the shorthand for your story at the top.
  2. Put your name and your contact information underneath.
  3. Give us a working title for your story.
  4. Write all your copy flush left.
  5. Leave two spaces between paragraphs.
  6. Give us a dateline rather than inserting a date at the top of your story.
  7. Dateline: Here’s what the AP says about datelines:

Datelines should convey the spirit of the reporting; they are not restricted to cities and towns. Census-designated places, townships, parks, counties, or datelines such as ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE or ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER may be used if appropriate. But do not designate neighborhoods or other places within a better-known jurisdiction as the dateline. For instance, NEW YORK should be the dateline, not BROOKLYN or CENTRAL PARK.For bylined stories, a reporter must be reporting from the dateline on the story. When there are multiple bylines, at least one reporter must have been at the scene, and a note at the end of the story should explain the locations of all bylined reporters. If the story has no dateline, no note is needed at the end of the story explaining the reporters’ locations.

8. How to write a dateline:

Datelines on stories should contain a place name, entirely in capital letters, followed in most cases by the name of the state, country or territory where the city is located.DOMESTIC DATELINES: A list of domestic cities that stand alone in datelines:

QUEENS, September 3, 2021

NEW YORK, September 23, 2021

ROCKLAND COUNTY, September 23, 2021

Stories from all other U.S. cities should have both the city and state name in the dateline, including KANSAS CITY, Mo., and KANSAS CITY, Kan.

Active Writing

New York City Hall and a news conference in front of the steps.

Barbara Nevins Taylor

ACTIVE WRITING

Active writing allows you to say what you mean in a clear concise way with colorful verbs that paint a picture.

In 1946, the writer George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984,  complained about politicians and others who use fuzzy language to hide the truth.

George Orwell.png

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs,” Orwell wrote.

In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language set out six rules for clear writing.  “Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech that you are used to seeing in print; Never use a long word where a short one will do; If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out; Never use the passive where you can use the active; Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent; Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.” – George Orwell

Here’s a recent of example of what Orwell talked about.

“As a man of integrity, I will not sit idly by while outside entities attempt to destroy my character.”

“The mischaracterizations and the politicization of the actions that I took after being informed of Mr. Prude’s death is not base on facts, and is not what I stand for.

Former Rochester Police Chief La’Ron D. Singletary.

How do we write a clear, direct sentence?

We make sure the subject does the action.

What does that mean?

Put the subject before the verb and the object.

Active sentence: Subject-Verb-Object

The verb determines action

Former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster defends President Trump’s discussion with Russian diplomats.

Not So Good

“At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

Good

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster defended President Trump and denied he leaked classified information to the Russians.

Not So Good

Allegations that President Trump revealed classified information to the Russians were denied by National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.

Passive Verbs Drag Down A Sentence

You create a passive verb when you make the subject the object of the action.

Passive Sentence

In the first inning, the three strikeouts were thrown by Mets pitcher Rick Porcello.

Active Sentence

Mets pitcher Rick Porcello threw three  strikeouts in the first inning.

Colorful verbs that tell a story and convey action create strong sentences.

Weak passive verbs make mushy sentences. You want to use action-filled verbs.

The verb to be does not convey action.

So we try avoid using: to be, am, is, are, was, were, being, been

EXAMPLES:

1.

Passive
The roads were destroyed by heavy rains.

Heavy rains were responsible for the destruction of the roads.

Active

Heavy rains destroyed the roads.

2.

Passive

The goalie crouched low, reached out his stick, and sent the rebound away from the mouth of the net.

Active

The goalie swept out his stick, and hooked the rebound away from the mouth of the net.

3.

Passive 

The three-pointer was shot  by the Toronto Raptor’s Fred VanVleet in the game against the Boston Celtics.

Active 

The Toronto Raptor’s Fred VanVleet shot the three-pointer in the game against the Boston Celtics.

4.

Passive

The legislation was sent to Congress by the president.

Active

The president sent the legislation to Congress.

or 

The president sent Congress the legislation.

5.

Passive

The earthquake in Puerto Rico caused victims to be airlifted by helicopter to the hospital.

Active

A helicopter airlifted victims of the earthquake in Puerto Rico and rushed them to the hospital.

or

A helicopter airlifted earthquake victims and rushed them to the hospital.

6.

Passive 

Carolina is responsible for monitoring and balancing the budgets for the journalists.

Carolina monitors and balances the budgets

or

Carolina monitors and balances budgets.

Use the passive voice when you want to emphasize the receiver of an action, not the actor.

Example:

Many Long Beach residents were forced to leave the beautiful beach area to escape the hurricane.

Use strong, colorful verbs

Example:

Violate instead of in violation

Resisted instead of was resistant

Avoid Passive Phrases Like These:

Have been

Had been passive

GERUNDS

A gerund acts like a verb and a noun. You form a gerund by adding –ing to the end of a verb:

Examples:

run, running
play, playing

A gerund describes action or a state of being.
Grammarians consider gerunds a lovely way to write.

But in ACTIVE writing a gerund can slow down a sentence.

Examples:

1.

The Mets are feeling like losers at this point in the season.

Better

The Mets feel like losers at this point in the season.

2.

Fans are wondering if the Jets will be losing games all season.

Better

Fans wonder if the Jets will lose games all season.

3.

Nets players are surprising their new coach with their driving ambition.

Better

Nets players surprised their new coach with their drive and ambition.

4.

We sat up all night reading.

Better

We read all night.

or

We sat up and read all  night.

6.

I like to go jeeping in the woods.

Better

I live to ride my jeep in the woods.

But gerunds can work when you talk about continuous action.

Example:

You might tell someone:

We jumped over puddles last night.

But if it continued to rain:

We spent the week jumping over puddles because of the constant rain.

CLUNKY WORDS AND PHRASES

 Some words and phrases make sentences fuzzy. 

Currently
Due to
Prior to
In an effort to
For the purpose of
In order to
Is of the opinion that
Due to the fact that
In the near future
At this point in time
During my time
Subsequent
Affinity For
Am Willing

The English-Zone.com created this excellent chart.

PRESENT PERFECT, PAST PERFECT and FUTURE PERFECT
Passive form:
have/has been + past participle
had been + past participle
Active: Present Perfect
I have mailed the gift.
Jack has mailed the gifts.
Passive: Present Perfect
The gift has been mailed by me.
The gifts have been mailed by Jack.
Active: Past Perfect
Steven Spielberg had directed the movie.
Penny Marshall had directed those movies.
Passive: Past Perfect
The movie had been directed by Steven Spielberg.
The movies had been directed by Penny Marshall.
Active: Future Perfect
John will have finished the project next month.
They will have finished the projects before then.
Passive: Future Perfect
The project will have been finished by next month.
The projects will have been finished before then.
FUTURE TENSES
Passive forms: will + be + past participle
is/are going to be + past participle
Active: Future with WILL
I will mail the gift.
Jack will mail the gifts.
Passive: Future with WILL
The gift will be mailed by me.
The gifts will be mailed by Jack.
Active: Future with GOING TO
I am going to make the cake.
Sue is going to make two cakes.
Passive: Future with GOING TO
The cake is going to be made by me.
Two cakes are going to be made by Sue.
PRESENT / FUTURE MODALS
The passive form follows this pattern:
modal + be + past participle
Active: WILL / WON’T (WILL NOT)
Sharon will invite Tom to the party.
Sharon won’t invite Jeff to the party.
(Sharon will not invite Jeff to the party.)
Passive: WILL / WON’T (WILL NOT)
Tom will be invited to the party by Sharon.
Jeff won’t be invited to the party by Sharon.
(Jeff will not be invited to the party by Sharon.)
Active: CAN / CAN’T (CAN NOT)
Mai can foretell the future.
Terry can’t foretell the future.
(Terry can not foretell the future.)
Passive: CAN / CAN’T (CAN NOT)
The future can be foretold by Mai.
The future can’t be foretold by Terry.
(The future can not be foretold by Terry.)
Active: MAY / MAY NOT
Her company may give Katya a new office.
The lazy students may not do the homework.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Her company might give Katya a new office.
The lazy students might not do the homework.
Passive: MAY / MAY NOT
Katya may be given a new office by her company.
The homework may not be done by the lazy students.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Katya might be given a new office by her company.
The homework might not be done by the lazy students.
Active: SHOULD / SHOULDN’T
Students should memorize English verbs.
Children shouldn’t smoke cigarettes.
Passive: SHOULD / SHOULDN’T
English verbs should be memorized  by students.
Cigarettes shouldn’t be smoked  by children.
Active: OUGHT TO
Students ought to learn English verbs.
(negative ought to is rarely used)
Passive: OUGHT TO
English verbs ought to be memorized by students.
Active: HAD BETTER / HAD BETTER NOT
Students had better practice English every day.
Children had better not drink whiskey.
Passive: HAD BETTER / HAD BETTER NOT
English had better be practiced every day by students.
Whiskey had better not be drunk by children.
Active: MUST / MUST NOT
Tourists must apply for a passport to travel abroad.
Customers must not use that door.
Passive: MUST / MUST NOT
A passport to travel abroad must be applied for.
That door must not be used by customers.
Active: HAS TO / HAVE TO
She has to practice English every day.
Sara and Miho have to wash the dishes every day.
DOESN’T HAVE TO/ DON’T HAVE TO
Maria doesn’t have to clean her bedroom every day.
The children don’t have to clean their bedrooms every day.
Passive: HAS TO / HAVE TO
English has to be practiced every day.
The dishes have to be washed by them every day.
DOESN’T HAVE TO/ DON’T HAVE TO
Her bedroom doesn’t have to be cleaned every day.
Their bedrooms don’t have to be cleaned every day.
Active: BE SUPPOSED TO
I am supposed to type the composition.
I am not supposed to copy the stories in the book.
Janet is supposed to clean the living room.
She isn’t supposed to eat candy and gum.
They are supposed to make dinner for the family.
They aren’t supposed to make dessert.
Passive: BE SUPPOSED TO
The composition is supposed to be typed by me.
The stories in the book are not supposed to be copied.
The living room is supposed to be cleaned by Janet.
Candy and gum aren’t supposed to be eaten by her.
Dinner for the family is supposed to be made by them.
Dessert isn’t supposed to be made by them.
PAST MODALS
The past passive form follows this pattern:
modal + have been + past participle
Active: SHOULD HAVE / SHOULDN’T HAVE
The students should have learned the verbs.
The children shouldn’t have broken the window.
Passive: SHOULD HAVE / SHOULDN’T HAVE
The verbs should have been learned by the students.
The window shouldn’t have been broken by the children.
Active: OUGHT TO
Students ought to have learned the verbs.
(negative ought to is rarely used)
Passive: OUGHT TO
The verbs ought to have been learned by the students.
Active: BE SUPPOSED TO (past time)
I was supposed to type the composition.
I wasn’t supposed to copy the story in the book.
Janet was supposed to clean the living room.
She wasn’t supposed to eat candy and gum.
Frank and Jane were supposed to make dinner.
They weren’t supposed to make dessert.
Passive: BE SUPPOSED TO (past time)
The composition was supposed to be typed  by me.
The story in the book wasn’t supposed to be copied.
The living room was supposed to be cleaned by Janet.
Candy and gum weren’t supposed to be eaten by her.
Dinner was supposed to be made by them.
Dessert wasn’t supposed to be made by them.
Active: MAY / MAY NOT
That firm may have offered Katya a new job.
The students may not have written the paper.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
That firm might have offered Katya a new job.
The students might not have written the paper.
Passive: MAY / MAY NOT
Katya may have been offered a new job by that firm.
The paper may not have been written by the students.
MIGHT / MIGHT NOT
Katya might have been offered a new job by that firm.
The paper might not have been written by the students.

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Art of the Interview

People smoking marijuana in Washington Square Park

Some people want to talk and others don’t. You must try your best to get people to talk to you and tell you what you want to know.

All interviews require the same basic skills. You need to prepare. You want to research and find out everything you can about the subject before you ask a question.

Breaking News Challenge

NYFD responds to a fire in Manhattan on April 21, 2021

If you head to a breaking news story, you want to find out whatever facts are available before you get there. When you arrive at the scene of the story, you want to quickly assess the situation and decide who can give you the best information.

You want to pause for a minute or two to think about what you learned and decide who you need to interview.

NYFD at the scene of a fire on April 19, 2021

Then you want to calmly approach the person, introduce yourself and try to make a human connection. That will help you talk to the interview subject and get the best answers.

  1. Remember to ask open-ended questions instead of questions that give you a yes or no answer.
  2. Listen to the answers. Look into the interview subjects’ eyes and pay attention to the cues they give you.
  3. Ask follow-up questions based on their answers.
  4. Remember to be a fellow human being instead of a reporter on a mission.
President Biden discusses his 100 days in office interview with Craig Melvin on MSNBC.

Sit-down Interviews

In a sit-down interview preparation is key. You want to make sure that you know everything about your subject. Celebrities, politicians and athletes will tell you what they want to tell you. So you must think about what you and your readers, viewers or listeners want to know. Look for the unusual, something others haven’t covered before.