June 9, 2011

Whatever you think of the nut graph, it has certainly earned a hallowed place in the news writing hall of fame. Among its many contributions, the nut graph has liberated a generation of journalists from the arbitrary requirements of the inverted pyramid and the hard news lead.

Nut graphs give writers an opportunity to have a little more creative freedom. Instead of packing the 5W’s into the first sentence, you can let the story breathe a little. You can begin a story with a short scene, an anecdote, a question, a bit of dialogue. Why would you do such a thing? To get the attention of the reader. To make the story interesting.

But this freedom carries with it an important responsibility. The writer has to justify that unconventional opening and explain to the reader “why” that stuff at the top was important. And the writer has to ask some important questions: Does this story need a nut graph? Does the nut graph have to go before the jump? How long does the nut graph have to be? Is there such a thing as a nut word, a nut phrase, a nut sentence — even a nut zone?

In this week’s writing chat, we’ll address these questions and talk about how to craft an effective nut graph. Twitter users can tweet questions ahead of time or during the chat using the hashtag #poynterchats. You can revisit this link at any time to watch a replay of the chat.

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Roy Peter Clark has taught writing at Poynter to students of all ages since 1979. He has served the Institute as its first full-time faculty…
Roy Peter Clark

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