In any hard news article, the lead sentence should surprise the reader—to some extent—and tell him or her what the story is about.
It should always be more exciting and quicker to the point than the first sentence of this story, for example.
But in many articles that are not of the hard news type—we call these feature articles—there is often a paragraph further down in the story far more critical than the lead sentence.
It's called the nut graf.
Get ready for this story's nut graf. It's coming up in bold.
The nut graf is the main point of the story. It's not the story topic: That's far too broad. It's not always the first sentence, as you can see. But at Beijing Review and all reputable publications, the nut graf is some kernel within the story that is critical to focusing readers on what the story is conveying. Not all nut grafs should be of the same style, but every article should have one.
Nut graf vs. topic
Oftentimes at Beijing Review, in formulating a story, we begin to discuss the story topic, but by the time a story is being written, the writer should have a much more clear idea of what the specific nut graf will be.
A topic is simply a subject area that any given reporter could write on.
Here are examples of some topics:
1) On Dec. 11, China completed its obligations to the World Trade Organization.
2) Traditional Chinese Medicine.
3) China and ASEAN relations are improving.
A nut graf is different. It is a very analytical, purposeful sentence in the story detailing exactly what the readers should expect to learn from this story. Here are a few ways the previous topics could be turned into nut grafs (some of these nut grafs are fictional):
1) While China completed its obligations to the WTO on Dec. 11, some say that the nation must go much further in adhering to the "spirit" of the WTO in order to become a true market economy.
2) While Traditional Chinese Medicine dates back for centuries, only now are certain types being tested in clinical studies to be processed into prescription drugs.
3) There has been a lot of talk between China and ASEAN over the years, but a new 10-step plan agreed upon last week give the regions their first chance to form a true economic alliance.
The critical nut graf
Why is the nut graf so important for Beijing Review?
Ok, actually, it's important at any publication so that readers know exactly what the story is about and focus on the story's point.
There's another reason as well for us at Beijing Review.
Beijing Review is a weekly magazine. That means news that we write about often has been covered by other major media such as China Daily.
In order for readers to pay attention to us, we have to do something different. Otherwise readers will just get their daily news digest from other media outlets.
Here are some examples of some recent China Daily nut grafs:
1) Commerce Minister Bo Xilai defended China's trade policies and market access Monday when he met visiting EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson."
2) The second East Asia Ministerial Forum on Families opened here on Monday to share experiences on family issues and explore cooperative partnerships.
These are newspaper style nut grafs. They appeared at the top of their respective stories, and include very little analysis. It's just the facts: Who, what, when—maybe where.
At Beijing Review, we must have better nut grafs.
If we can think creatively, smartly and analytically about the issues we are covering, and form a single clear nut graf that engages our readers, they will read our magazine time and time again.
For all the aspiring journalists out there, if you can do the same in feature stories, some day we'd love to have you aboard our publication.