Beginning with a shocking statement may be the best way to get a reader’s attention, but there’s yet another story ingredient that helps ensure high readership of an announcement or article.

The statement above is called a “nut graph,” and it’s the nut graph for this blog post about nut graphs.

Given all the competition for an employee’s time and attention, they want to know right up front: “Why should I spend time reading this?”

The nut graph answers this by delivering a promise of the story’s content and message. It:

  • lets the reader know what the subject is
  • creates expectations.

A story without a nut graph is like a walk in the woods without a path: you know you’re going someplace, but you’re not sure where.

Whereas a “lead” is used to grab attention with a startling fact or provocative question, the nut graph is more than just a teaser – it should contain a kernel (the nut), previewing the essential theme or message. In a brief announcement or article, it’s great to combine the lead with the nut graph.

Here’s some examples from a recent series of articles we did at our healthcare system to highlight our new commitment to mental health services.  The theme was: Debunking mental health myths.  First the headline, then the nut graph:

Myth: Children are too young to develop mental illness

From inconsolable preschoolers to moody teenagers, how do you know if it’s just a phase or a symptom of mental illness?

Myth: You can just “snap out of it”

We wouldn’t expect a person with a broken leg or diabetes to just” snap out of it,” and in the same way we shouldn’t expect a person to think their way out of a mental illness.

We intentionally began each article with a “grabber” (something not necessarily obvious) and previewed the subject, all in the same lead – an ideal nut graph.

Final point:  beware of the senior executive who wants to load two or three whole paragraphs of preamble (about the industry and its woes, for instance) into the front-end of an announcement before giving the reader a clue about the subject or news.

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