Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

Crack open a good nut graph


Beginning with a shocking statement may be the best way to get a reader’s attention, but there’s yet another story ingredient that helps ensure high readership of an announcement or article.

The statement above is called a “nut graph,” and it’s the nut graph for this blog post about nut graphs.

Given all the competition for an employee’s time and attention, they want to know right up front: “Why should I spend time reading this?”

The nut graph answers this by delivering a promise of the story’s content and message. It:

  • lets the reader know what the subject is
  • creates expectations.

A story without a nut graph is like a walk in the woods without a path: you know you’re going someplace, but you’re not sure where.

Whereas a “lead” is used to grab attention with a startling fact or provocative question, the nut graph is more than just a teaser – it should contain a kernel (the nut), previewing the essential theme or message. In a brief announcement or article, it’s great to combine the lead with the nut graph.

Here’s some examples from a recent series of articles we did at our healthcare system to highlight our new commitment to mental health services.  The theme was: Debunking mental health myths.  First the headline, then the nut graph:

Myth: Children are too young to develop mental illness

From inconsolable preschoolers to moody teenagers, how do you know if it’s just a phase or a symptom of mental illness?

Myth: You can just “snap out of it”

We wouldn’t expect a person with a broken leg or diabetes to just” snap out of it,” and in the same way we shouldn’t expect a person to think their way out of a mental illness.

We intentionally began each article with a “grabber” (something not necessarily obvious) and previewed the subject, all in the same lead – an ideal nut graph.

Final point:  beware of the senior executive who wants to load two or three whole paragraphs of preamble (about the industry and its woes, for instance) into the front-end of an announcement before giving the reader a clue about the subject or news.


February 9, 2017 Posted by | Corporate Communications, health care communications, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Length Matters

If you let your CEO send an emailed announcement to everyone with over 600 words, readership will not be optimum. But the low-readership penalty for 800 words or more is harsher. If you think that the only result will be that the employee may merely skim it or stop reading after the first few paragraphs, think again. They won’t read any of it. They skip it.  Gone.  Most figure they don’t have the time to tackle it, and you’ve just lost the chance to impart any information.

Research shows that if most readers look at a page with 8 or 9 dense paragraphs of type, their willingness to read it at all goes down significantly, compared to a communication of 5 paragraphs. This is especially true when major change is swirling around your organization and people are time-stressed.

Here’s what the experts recommend, and I can attest to this advice based on my own experience:

Target length is 400 words. This will take the average reader two minutes to read. So given the 3-second average time people spend previewing “general distribution” work emails, 100 words is even better. Some internal communicators aim for 300 words.

You simply can’t let a long communication go out to staff levels that, for example, explains a re-organization in detail and then profiles four or five new leaders and their roles. You should, instead, just summarize the re-org and the “why,” then link to their profiles in deeper content/resources on your intranet.

You’re looking at about 285 words in this blog post, so a 300 to 400 word target for your internal communication is not much longer.  My next post will look at research on optimal sentence and paragraph length.


January 20, 2017 Posted by | Change Management, Corporate Communications, health care communications, healthcare integrations, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment