February 24, 2018

Avoid ‘the pig in the snake’

Write a nut graph that doesn’t slow the story’s flow

Don’t let your nut graph become the pig in the snake, counsels Jacqui Banaszynski:

Avoid 'the pig in the snake'

This little piggy Nut graphs shouldn’t be too big to go down in a single swallow. Image by Eric Parker

“I like the nut graph,” says the Knight Chair in Editing at the Missouri School of Journalism and visiting faculty member of The Poynter Institute. “Readers need a frame around the picture. But sometimes the nut graph sticks out like a pig going through a snake. The nut graph doesn’t have to be a paragraph. Instead, it can be one elegant line that foreshadows the rest of the story.”

Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar of The Poynter Institute, agrees:

“The ‘nut’ is supposed to signify the hard kernel of the story, what is at the center. But it’s a clumsy metaphor, because it suggests there is a shell that has to be cracked to get to it.”

That’s no fun for the reader, writes Kate Long, a writing coach for The Charleston Gazette:

“You’re eating this nice brownie, and suddenly you hit a chunk of dry flour.”

To keep your reader from choking on your nut graph, write a short, graceful summary that’s in keeping with the tone and style of the rest of your piece.

  • Go Beyond the Pyramid

    Master a story structure that’s been proven in the lab to reach more readers

    Writers say, “We use the inverted pyramid because readers stop reading after the first paragraph.” But in new research, readers say, “We stop reading after the first paragraph because you use the inverted pyramid.”

    Go Beyond the Pyramid in Denver

    Indeed, our old friend the inverted pyramid hasn’t fared well in recent studies. Studies by the Poynter Institute, Reuters Institute and the American Society of News Editors show that the traditional news structure reduces readership, understanding, sharing, engagement and more.

    Grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression.

    The pyramid doesn’t work well, these researchers say, with a little subset of your audience we call “humans.”

    At Catch Your Readers — our two-day hands-on persuasive-writing master class on May 1-2 in Denver — you’ll master a structure that’s been proven in the lab to grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Grab reader attention with a lead that’s concrete, creative and provocative — and avoid making readers’ eyes glaze over by using one of the seven deadly leads.
    • Stop bewildering your readers by leaving out an essential paragraph. (Many communicators forget this entirely.)
    • Avoid the “muddle in the middle” by choosing one of five structural techniques from a rubric created by the founder of TED Talks.
    • Draw to a satisfying conclusion in the penultimate paragraph.
    • End with a bang, not a whimper by using our three-step test.

    Learn more.

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