A nut graph, in journalistic lingo, is the "nut" or "kernel" of a story. It tells the reader what the article will be about, and it appears relatively early in the article, if not in the first paragraph. While the core of a story may be obvious for hard news -- such as a fire that kills 100 -- it may not be as apparent in a feature story about a person or an analytical piece about a cultural trend. The nut graph helps to show readers why the story is important and why they should keep reading.
Outline the Article
To write a nut graph, you have to first understand what the story is about, and outlining can help you understand all the nuances of the story so you can get to its core. For example, if you are writing a profile about a teacher who is retiring after 40 years in the system, the nut graph may simply focus on those facts. However, after outlining, you may realize there is more context for your story, such as that the teacher taught the first crop of integrated students or retired because she is going to open a school in Nepal. Knowing everything you will cover in your article can help you distill its essence for the nut graph.
Write for Hard News
A nut graph should answer all the basic questions of a story: who, what, where, when and why. This is typically a bit easier in a news story, which will introduce all these elements very early in the article. The nut graph would typically be in the opening paragraph, and it might read something like, "A fire killed 100 people, including 22 children, at an apartment building in Hollywood on Friday." The reader has all the core information about the story, but is invited to read more to learn about the details.
Write for a Feature
In a feature story, outlining will help to get to the essence of the story to write the nut graph. A feature story generally opens with some descriptive passages, such as an anecdote about the person. The nut graph would typically follow, a few paragraphs into the story. For example, after describing the teacher who is retiring, the nut graph might read, "After the last bell rang, Smith closed her desk drawer, putting 40 years behind her that included teaching at the first integrated school in Alabama, sometimes at great risk to her safety." The article would then tell the teacher's story.
Get a Second Opinion
It may not always be obvious to you what the nut graph of your story is, especially if you are writing a complex article analyzing policy or cultural trends. After you write what you think is your nut graph, show your article to a colleague or professor to get a second opinion. Ask the person to read the story in its entirety and then tell you what it's about in one or two sentences. If the answer is significantly different than what's in your nut graph, you either need to rewrite your nut graph or analyze your article more closely.
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