The Art of the Nut Graf: Don’t Just Get New Visitors, Keep Them

Mixed nuts

Image via Wikipedia

Writing rockin’ blog post titles is a great way to attract new visitors to your blog. But it’s just as important that your posts have strong introductions that will engage readers and motivate them to actually read — and not just scan — your writing. Plus, you probably want to encourage them to stay on your blog and read your other entries, too.

Think about it: do you read every word of every blog post that looks remotely appealing? Of course not! You probably scan the first few sentences to determine if a post is of interest to you, and if it doesn’t immediately grab your attention, you skedaddle.

Keep that in mind when you’re writing the introductions of your own posts.

“What Graf?”

Traditional news stories begin by summarizing the who, what, when, where, why, and how. This is called the lead. Feature stories, on the other hand, take a more narrative approach and often include the opinion of the writer (like most blog posts). The nut graf is the lead of a feature story. It summarizes the essence of the article.

The nut graf essentially tells readers, “Here is what this piece is about, and this is why you should care.” You might be able to sum up the nut graf in a single sentence, or you might want to dedicate a whole paragraph to it. Though it’s usually best to place the nut graf as early as possible in the story, you may find that for some posts, it fits best in the second or third paragraph.

For example, here are some nut grafs (highlighted in bold) from two of last week’s Freshly Pressed posts:

Here’s an excerpt from I am not Hmong; And I don’t speak Spanish!
with a delayed, three-paragraph nut graf:

A few of years ago, my husband’s niece exclaimed, “Auntie, I know how to say door in Spanish.”

“Dora, the Explorer” was one of her favorite children’s television shows at that time.  I wondered if she had learned that from “Dora.”

“How?” I asked.

“Qhob rooj!”

I gasped in surprise,  “Athena, that’s not Spanish!  That’s Hmong.  And the correct way to pronounce it is ‘qhov rooj.’”

Two years ago, the same Athena got offended when I told her that she is Hmong.

“I’m not Hmong.  I’m American and I speak American,” she stated.

She does have a point; she is American.  She was born here.  She lives here.  She goes to an American school.   She learns about the American culture, history, and language at school.  But she can’t deny the fact that no matter how American she wants to be, she will always be Hmong.  Even if she labels herself as “American”, others are going to label her as either “Asian (Asian American)” or “Hmong.”

Athena is not the only one.  I have witnessed too many small Hmong children who are ignorant about their culture.   Too many Hmong children don’t speak their native tongue and don’t even recognize the Hmong language when they hear it.  Too many Hmong children don’t know what the essence of being “Hmong” is about nor do they have pride that they are Hmong.

Who is to blame for ignorant Hmong children who believe their grandparents speak Spanish?  Who is to blame for Hmong children refusing to claim their heritage?   The parents.

Growing up, I didn’t have cable TV or watch American movies like my peers.  My mom bought Hmong movies and Asian movies dubbed in Hmong for my siblings and me.  If it weren’t for those Hmong movies, I believe I would’ve lost my ability to speak Hmong a long time ago.

Here’s an excerpt from The Truth About Flying, which begins with a two-sentence nut graf:

Many moons ago, when the Gutenberg was just a twinkle in Johannes’ eye, I thought travel was exciting, exotic and glamourous.

Now that I fly roughly every few weeks and have survived Paris CDG on more than one occasion, with my hair intact (though perhaps less so my sanity), I have realised that it is the height of tedium.

Or, as Orson Welles so succinctly put it, “There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.”

In addition to communicating the value of the post and hooking readers, an effective nut graph will help you to focus and organize your writing.

Tips for Writing Compelling Introductions

Be specific
Paint a detailed picture for your reader.

Get to the point
Say what you want to say in as few words as possible. You’re writing for the web, remember?

Have an opinion
That’s the beauty of personal blogs!

Emphasize controversy
As the old journalism saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” But you don’t have to blog about violence (or other contentious topics) to raise eyebrows. If you’re challenging conventional wisdom or saying what no one else is brave enough to say, you can use that to hook readers.

Be honest
Don’t overhype your post. Get visitors excited about your content, but be careful not to set them up for disappointment.

Nut Grafs in a Nutshell

So whether you’re writing a long-winded rant about politics or simply recapping last weekend’s shenanigans, be sure to tell visitors why they should keep reading.

Chances are, if someone’s already clicked on your post they’re probably interested in what you have to say. But most of us have pretty short attention spans when it comes to browsing content on the web, so do your best to hook readers as quickly as you can.

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6 Responses to The Art of the Nut Graf: Don’t Just Get New Visitors, Keep Them

  1. Excellent piece of suggestions for the bloggers. Thank you for the post.

  2. comingeast says:

    I read the article about the five ways to get Freshly Pressed as well as your excellent article, and I’m still having no success. I think I have very good titles (“The Rack and Other Instruments of Torture,” for example), and my posts are well-written and free from grammatical and spelling errors. I have read many great posts on Freshly Pressed, but I’ve also read quite a few with uninteresting titles and numerous grammatical mistakes. What am I missing?

    • Joy Victory says:

      Hi, the reason you haven’t been selected — and may not any time soon — is simply the odds are against you (and every WordPress.com blogger). It’s just 10 posts a day, but we have 13 million or users.

      Instead of focusing on getting on Freshly Pressed, I encourage you to focus on your blog, writing, enjoying the experience, meeting new bloggers, etc. Thanks for writing in!

  3. Joy, Do you think it’s important that while trying to make the titles entertaining, they still be relevant? Thank you for the suggestions!

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