September 24, 2017

Tough nut to crack

Put your story into a nutshell

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 graph

Crack open the nut graph The nut graph tells readers where you’re going with this story and why they might want to join you. Image by philografy

No matter how dazzling your feature lead, at some point, readers want to know where we’re going with this story.

And that’s the job of the nut graph. The nut graph is where you reveal your destination and convince your readers to come along for the ride. (This, by the way, is the nut graph for this story.)

Here are four tips for cracking 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 your readers what you’re going to tell ’em.

The nut graph — aka the “billboard” or the “so-what graph” — puts your piece into a nutshell. It provides the kernel, or central theme, of your story.

“The most important thing in the story is finding the central idea,” says Thomas Boswell, a Washington Post sports columnist.

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

Crack open the nut graph

Related stories

“The nut graph is so important, you’d think writers would lavish as much attention on it as they do a story’s lead, opening quote or conclusion. And yet, nut graphs remain tough nuts to crack.”
— Michelle V. Rafter, business journalist

Go Beyond the Inverted Pyramid

Master a structure that’s been proven in the lab to reach more readers

Writers say, “We use the inverted pyramid because readers stop reading after the first paragraph.” But in new research, readers say, “We stop reading after the first paragraph because you use the inverted pyramid.”

Catch Your Readers

Break the triangle Learn to master a structure that’s been proven in the lab to grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression. Image by Paul Dufour

Indeed, our old friend the inverted pyramid hasn’t fared well in recent research. Studies by the Poynter Institute, Reuters Institute and the American Society of News Editors show that the traditional news structure reduces readership, understanding, sharing, engagement and more.

In short, researchers say, inverted pyramids “do not work well with readers.”

At Catch Your Readers — our two-day persuasive-writing master class on Nov. 16-17 in Kansas City — you’ll learn to write webpages that draw mobile and desktop visitors to your site; help them read faster, — you’ll master a structure that’s been proven in the lab to grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression.

Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

  • Grab reader attention with a lead that’s concrete, creative and provocative — and avoid making readers’ eyes glaze over by using one of the seven deadly leads.
  • Stop bewildering your readers by leaving out an essential paragraph. (Many communicators forget this entirely.)
  • Avoid the “muddle in the middle” by choosing one of five structural techniques from a rubric created by the founder of TED Talks.
  • Draw to a satisfying conclusion in the penultimate paragraph.
  • End with a bang, not a whimper by using our three-step test.

Save $100 when you catch one of our early bird tickets by Sept. 16.

“Excellent! Best workshop I’ve attended – EVER!”
— Patty Iannotti, manager, employee & external communications, FM Global

Polish your skills at these Master Classes

Learn to Master the Art of the Storyteller, Catch Your Readers, Get Clicked, Cut Through the Clutter and more

Register for Master the Art of the Storyteller in New York: Ann Wylie’s creative-writing workshop in New York on Sept. 25-26, 2017

New York | Sept. 25-26

Register for Catch Your Readers in Kansas City: Ann Wylie’s persuasive-writing workshop in Kansas City on Nov. 16-17, 2017

Kansas City | Nov. 16-17

Register for Write For The Web and Mobile: Ann Wylie’s online-writing workshop in Miami on Dec. 11-12, 2017

Miami | Dec. 11-12

Rather bring Ann in to train your whole team?

Catch Ann on the road

Save when you book a workshop while I’m in your neighborhood

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Atlanta: Sept. 11-12
  • Boston: Oct. 9
  • Chicago: Nov. 13
  • Dallas: Oct. 16-20
  • Kansas City: Nov. 16-17
  • Memphis: Nov. 2
  • Miami: Dec. 11-12
  • New York: Sept. 25-26
  • Roseville, CA: Oct. 24

Keep up with my calendar.

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