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Saturday
Jul092005

Tutorial III: Nut Graph

The relationship between the lead and the Nut Graph can be thought of in this way: The intro highlights an individual case. The Nut Graph, meanwhile, illustrates how that individual case is actually representative of a bigger trend or how it fits into a bigger overall picture.

This is a well-worn formula that’s still used by the Wall Street Journal and countless other publications today. Central to this approach is the Nut Graph. Without it, you really don’t have a story. Blundell calls it “the main theme statement, the single most important bit of writing I do on any story.”

Ken Wells, a writer and editor at the WSJ, describes the Nut Graph as “a paragraph that says what this whole story is about and why you should read it. It's a flag to the reader, high up in the story: You can decide to proceed or not, but if you read no farther, you know what that story's about.”

Remember, in the Blundell Technique, up to three paragraphs can be used for the intro (but never more than three). Here's an example of a Blundell Technique used in a story in the Financial Times:

(Three para intro)
Physicists are just like the rest of us in at least one respect. When they go online to search for information, they expect the earth.

Bebo White, who runs the website for the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, a high-energy physics laboratory in California, knows this all too well. "They get very frustrated if we don't return good results, and quickly,” says Mr White.

And what do the expert visitors to the centre's website look for most often? That day's cafeteria menu, says Ruth McDunn, another technician on the site.

(Nut Graph)
Call it the Google Effect. Expectations of search engines have skyrocketed. Whether it involves complex specialist knowledge or the completely trivial, there is a general belief that everything should be available instantly, at the click of a mouse.

I’ve noticed that many writers really struggle to find a Nut Graph for their stories. I suspect that this is because they are not clear what their stories are about in the first place.

Address this question: “What is this story really about?” in one word. Greed, politics, sacrifice, loss, redemption, family, hope, freedom? It could be any of these things. But once you know what your story is about, you will have focus. A good story should leave a single, dominant impression. This is called your "angle".

Now all you have to do is to express your angle in two or three sentences. That, my friend, is your Nut Graph.

“The most important thing in the story is finding the central idea. It's one thing to be given a topic, but you have to find the idea or the concept within that topic. 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.”
– Thomas Boswell, The Washington Post

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