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