Strengthening Nut Grafs
The nut graf is the paragraph in your magazine article that tells the reader why he is reading. In many journalism schools, students are taught to write nut grafs that always begin the same way: “This is important because …” In the previous section's example, the student's version of the nut graf might have begun, “This is important because experts say mental focus is the key to netting consistently good scores on the golf course.” The lead sets the scene and draws the reader in, and the nut graf explains both what point the lead illustrates and why the reader should stick around to learn more.
The problem with most nut grafs is that they are written too loosely. Even in a 5,000-word magazine article, your nut graf should be concise — probably two paragraphs at most. After all, if you can't articulate in a paragraph or two why your article is important, then how can you expect the reader to figure it out as you ramble on from page to page?
Tighten, Tighten, Tighten
One time-tested technique for improving nut grafs is to write them, let them sit without looking at them for a few days, and then go back and try to tighten them through self-editing. Nine times out of ten, you will find a more concise way to phrase your point the second or even third time you type it.
This technique works especially well for writers who tend to have trouble boiling their nut grafs down into just one paragraph on the first try. If you fall into that category (and you know who you are), then give the self-editing process a try on your next story assignment. Your editors will love you, and so will your readers.
Remember to approach your nut graf in keeping with your story's style. If you're writing a narrative nonfiction piece, for instance, you may not have a nut graf at all. The same is true for an essay. On a straight-news article, your nut graf is probably going to be your first paragraph. On a profile, it's likely to come around paragraph four or five.
Keep in mind that nut grafs can be one sentence or two paragraphs, depending on the length of the magazine feature. (Remember, some magazines with a more literary bent don't want nut grafs in your articles at all.)
The point to take home here is that if you are going to write a nut graf, then you should do everything you can to ensure it makes a point — and makes it as concisely as possible.
Say It Out Loud
If you're not sure whether your nut graf packs enough punch, then you can read it out loud, either to yourself or to a friend. You can even read it to your dog if that's the only audience you have.
The idea is to see whether you can read the key sentences in your nut graf without having to take a second breath. If you can, then you've probably written a pretty concise message to your readers. If you can't, then you might want to think about self-editing again, and then reading aloud one more time.