Nut Graf (or Nut Graph) in Journalism Explained

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"Nut graf" (or nut graph, nutgraph, nutgraf) is an editorial slang term used by editors and copy editors at newspapers and magazines. The term refers to a paragraph or sentence that summarizes the essence of a story without divulging every detail.

Putting the Story Into Context

In journalism, a nut graf puts the story in context and tells readers why the story matters. Many editors would say the nut graf is the most important section of a story because it tells the readers why they should continue reading the full story.

As a ​journalist, you would either hear your editor refer to your nut graf or see the word written out on one of your stories after it had been edited. You would not, however, see the term in a proper sentence.​

The term is a derivative of the expression "in a nutshell" combined with the word paragraph to explain the essential theme of the story. A writer may refer to the act of writing a nut graf as "nutshelling," while the writer is called the "nutsheller." An article or story's nut graf serves a few different purposes, including:

  • Justifying the point of the story by directing readers to the supporting material that helps readers see why the story is important
  • Providing a transition from the lead to the rest of the story
  • Telling readers why the story matters at this point in time

How a Nut Graf Is Written

In most news stories, the nut graf is written in the news style, where the essential facts of a story are included in the first sentence or two of the story (known as the lead or lede). A good lead tries to answer who, what, when, where, why, and how, quickly and succinctly.

For example, a story about unemployment statistics written in news style might start out with a lead like: "Federal grants for new job creation in booming in Chicago, but unemployment rates are soaring, according to statistics released by the Federal Employment Agency Thursday." 

However, if the same story were written in feature style rather than news style, then the story would begin in a more narrative way. For instance, the first few paragraphs might start by introducing a local Chicago tradesman on unemployment insurance because his lack of university credentials do not qualify him for the jobs typically created by the federal grants.

In the third or fourth paragraph of the story, the nut graf would be introduced to explain how the story rolls out, why it's important and would include much (but not all) of the information from the lead to keep the reader interested to read further.

Things to Keep In Mind

Rather than writing the whole story in the nut graf and crushing any chances for readers to read your whole story, you want to do the following:

  • Do not give away the ending to your story in the nut graf.
  • Think about some of the questions that readers might ask early on—and address the questions.
  • Give readers a good reason (or hook) to keep reading.
  • Gather your thoughts about what the story is really about and why people should read it; then use one or two sentences to type out your exact thoughts.