In journalism, a nut graph is a paragraph, particularly in a feature story, that explains the news value of the story. The term is also spelled as nut graf, nut ‘graph, nutgraph, nutgraf. It is a contraction of the expression nutshell paragraph, i.e., “in a nutshell” paragraph, dated at least to the 19th century. Sometimes the expression nut paragraph is also used. Writing a nut graph is called nutshelling and the writers are called nutshellers.
In most news stories, the news style of writing is used, and the essential facts of a story are included in the lede, the first sentence or two of the story. For example, a story about crime statistics written in news style might start out with a lede like: “Violent crime is down in Anytown, but shoplifting is soaring, according to statistics released by the Anytown Police Department Tuesday.” Good ledes try to answer who, what, when, where, why, and how as quickly as possible.
However, in feature stories, or in news written in a feature style, the story will often begin in a more narrative manner. For instance, if a story on crime statistics were written in feature style rather than news style, the first few paragraphs might start by introducing a local business owner who was affected by the boom in shoplifting. The nut graf, which often will start in the third or fourth paragraph, will explain what the story is about, including much but rarely all of the information that would have been contained in a lede, so as to keep the reader interested.
News style encompasses not only vocabulary and sentence structure, but also the way in which stories present the information in terms of relative importance, tone, and intended audience. The tense used for news style articles is past tense.
News writing attempts to answer all the basic questions about any particular event—who, what, when, where and why (the Five Ws) and also often how—at the opening of the article. This form of structure is sometimes called the “inverted pyramid“, to refer to the decreasing importance of information in subsequent paragraphs.
News stories also contain at least one of the following important characteristics relative to the intended audience: proximity, prominence, timeliness, human interest, oddity, or consequence.
Terms and structure
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Journalistic prose is explicit and precise, and tries not to rely on jargon. As a rule, journalists will not use a long word when a short one will do. They use subject-verb-object construction and vivid, active prose (see Grammar). They offer anecdotes, examples and metaphors, and they rarely depend on colorless generalizations or abstract ideas. News writers try to avoid using the same word more than once in a paragraph (sometimes called an “echo” or “word mirror”).
The headline (also heading, head or title, or hed in journalism jargon) of a story is typically a complete sentence (e.g., “Pilot Flies Below Bridges to Save Divers”), often with auxiliary verbs and articles removed (e.g., “Remains at Colorado camp linked to missing Chicago man”). However, headlines sometimes omit the subject (e.g., “Jumps From Boat, Catches in Wheel”) or verb (e.g., “Cat woman lucky”).
A subhead’ (also subheading or subtitle; subhed in journalism jargon) can be either a subordinate title under the main headline, or the heading of a subsection of the article.[full citation needed]; the first is meant here In the first case, it is a heading that precedes a group of paragraphs of the main text. It informs the reader of the topic in those paragraphs, helping the reader to choose to begin (or continue) reading. Articles should have more than one subhead. Subheads are one type of entry point that help readers make choices.
An article billboard is capsule summary text, often just one sentence or fragment, which is put into a sidebar or text box (reminiscent of an outdoor billboard) on the same page to grab the reader’s attention as they are flipping through the pages to encourage them to stop and read that article. When it consists of a (sometimes compressed) sample of the text of the article, it is known as a call-out or callout, and when it consists of a quotation (e.g. of an article subject, informant, or interviewee), it is referred to as a pulled quotation or pull quote. Additional billboards of any of these types may appear later in the article (especially on subsequent pages) to entice further reading. Journalistic websites sometimes use animation techniques to swap one billboard for another (e.g. a slide of a call-out may be replaced by a photo with pull quote after some short time has elapsed). Such billboards are also used as pointers to the article in other sections of the publication or site, or as advertisements for the piece in other publication or sites.
The most important structural element of a story is the lead (also intro), including the story’s first, or leading, sentence or two, which may or may not form its own paragraph. Some American English writers use the spelling lede /ˈliːd/, from Early Modern English, to avoid confusion with the printing press type formerly made from the metal lead or the related typographical term “leading“.
Charney states that “an effective lead is a ‘brief, sharp statement of the story’s essential facts.'” The lead is usually the first sentence, or in some cases the first two sentences, and is ideally 20–25 words in length. The top-loading principle (putting the most important information first—see inverted pyramid section below) applies especially to leads, but the unreadability of long sentences constrains the lead’s size. This makes writing a lead an optimization problem, in which the goal is to articulate the most encompassing and interesting statement that a writer can make in one sentence, given the material with which he or she has to work. While a rule of thumb says the lead should answer most or all of the five Ws, few leads can fit all of these.
To “bury the lead” in news style refers to beginning a description with details of secondary importance to the readers, forcing them to read more deeply into an article than they should have to in order to discover the essential point(s).
Article leads are sometimes categorized into hard leads and soft leads. A hard lead aims to provide a comprehensive thesis which tells the reader what the article will cover. A soft lead introduces the topic in a more creative, attention-seeking fashion, and is usually followed by a nutshell paragraph (or nut graf), a brief summary of facts.
- Example hard-lead paragraph
- NASA is proposing another space project. The agency’s budget request, announced today, included a plan to send another mission to the moon. This time the agency hopes to establish a long-term facility as a jumping-off point for other space adventures. The budget requests approximately ten billion dollars for the project.
- Example soft-lead sentence
- Humans will be going to the moon again. The NASA announcement came as the agency requested ten billion dollars of appropriations for the project.
A nutshell paragraph (also simply nutshell, or nut ‘graph, nut graf, nutgraf, etc., in journalism jargon) is a brief paragraph (occasionally there can be more than one) that summarizes the news value of the story, sometimes bullet-pointed and/or set off in a box. Nut-shell paragraphs are used particularly in feature stories (see “Feature style” below).
Paragraphs (shortened as ‘graphs, graphs or grafs in journalistic jargon) form the bulk of an article.
The optional kicker is the closing paragraph of the story which re-summarizes the key point, and may contain a call to action.
§Inverted pyramid structure
Journalists usually describe the organization or structure of a news story as an inverted pyramid. The essential and most interesting elements of a story are put at the beginning, with supporting information following in order of diminishing importance.
This structure enables readers to stop reading at any point and still come away with the essence of a story. It allows people to explore a topic to only the depth that their curiosity takes them, and without the imposition of details or nuances that they could consider irrelevant, but still making that information available to more interested readers.
The inverted pyramid structure also enables articles to be trimmed to any arbitrary length during layout, to fit in the space available.
Writers are often admonished “Don’t bury the lead!” to ensure that they present the most important facts first, rather than requiring the reader to go through several paragraphs to find them.
Some writers start their stories with the “1-2-3 lead”, yet there are many kinds of lead available. This format invariably starts with a “Five Ws” opening paragraph (as described above), followed by an indirect quote that serves to support a major element of the first paragraph, and then a direct quote to support the indirect quote.
- Scanlan, Chip (May 20, 2003). “The Nut Graf, Part I”. PoynterOnline. St. Petersburg, FL: Poynter Institute. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
- Scanlan, Chip (May 21, 2003). “The Nut Graf and Breaking News”. PoynterOnline. St. Petersburg, FL: Poynter Institute. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
- Moscheles, Felix (March 1898). “The Baroness von Suttner’s New Book”. Concord (London: International Arbitration and Peace Association) 13 (4): 63. Retrieved November 13, 2009.
On every page we recognise her incisive style, and we come across those peculiarly happy thoughts she knows how to condense into a nutshell paragraph.