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31.5.13

How to grab and hold your readers’ attention

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You can grab and hold your readers by understanding the “nub” paragraph.

● Some ideas change your life. Yep, that is what learning about the “nub paragraph” did for my journalistic career.

I’d been writing for BRW magazine for several years, and I couldn’t understand why my editor wrote “YUK!” and “GUFF” on some of my stories (helpful, eh), while he let others sail through to the magazine unscathed.

I discovered the answer: some of my stories were missing a “nub paragraph”, and I am going to tell you about how and why to use the “nub” in your writing.

Without a “nub para” in your story, your readers will simply turn (or click) to the next page – all your hard work, your brilliant ideas, your thorough research and your passion for your subject will be lost.

Sadly, readers are even tougher than editors.

Of all the valuable tips imparted by the excellent trainer who taught me about the nub, the role of nub paragraph had the most immediate impact on the quality of my stories.

I got a promotion to “section editor” shortly after completing her training. And I started to have much more fun as a writer.

Once you have read this blog, reading your Saturday paper will never be the same. You’ll be amazed to find that even some journalists fail to deliver a nub para! But you will also notice many who do it beautifully and skilfully, and you can learn from them.

The nub para

1. The nub paragraph is not a secret. You can search the term and get lots of hits. However, it is neither well understood, nor widely practiced, and my definition of the nub is slightly different to most.

2. The nub paragraph is commonly defined as “telling your reader exactly what your article is going to be about”. I think there is a little bit more to it than that.

The nub para has to answer this question in your reader’s mind: “What’s in it for me?” If you are writing about a small business success story, why would your small business readers want to listen to someone crowing about it? It might be that the story holds practical lessons about how that success was achieved, or perhaps it is an inspirational story about how the business owner overcame their own personal shortcomings to triumph against the odds, giving readers hope in their own work.

3. Knowing the nub of your story is not always easy. It is made easier if you are clear about the purpose of your writing, and the proposition you are arguing from the start (subjects for future posts). But the big reason that writers struggle with the nub is that they have not thought about their readers. The nub directly addresses your readers. You can’t write a nub para unless you have given some thought to who will be interested in the message of your story.

4. The nub doesn’t have to be at the beginning. A compelling introduction – an engaging anecdote or amazing fact — will hold you reader’s attention for a para or two. Then you must deliver the nub, or they will lose interest (even if they don’t know why). Sometimes, a skilful writer can put the nub as many as five paragraphs into the story, but in general, especially when you are starting, you should put the nub in the second or third para.

5. There’s no nub in news. News stories hold our attention because they are current, and because the person, the event or the circumstances grab our interest. To keep us reading, the writer has only to satisfy it by answering the reader’s questions — who, when, where, why and how — concisely and vividly.

The nub paragraph belong in blogs, features, reports, reviews, presentations, talks … in short, the nub para is critical when we are writing about ideas, when we want to deliver a message in a way that persuades our audience of its relevance at the very moment they encounter it.

 

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