A Definitive Guide to Writing: Sentence & Paragraph Structure

Part A: How to Write a Good Lede and the Importance of Nut Graph

It is about the way, not about the destination

Zyxware is publishing a multipart essay on how to write effectively. The preface was published yesterday. Here is part A of the series that deals with sentence and paragraph structure.

A. Sentence and Paragraph Structure 

  1. Write short sentences with five to fifteen words per sentence. Avoid jargon and use simple words. We are not writing for academia but the general public. 

  2. Make sure that there is no more than one clause in a sentence. Split wherever necessary. Try replacing multiple outcomes with bulleted or numbered lists in place of mentioning various effects in a sentence. 

  3. Limit a paragraph between three to five sentences ± two. Don't be monotonous or too complex.

  4. Do not put several ideas into a single paragraph. Loosely follow a self-contained structure wherein an introduction, description, and conclusion — each in separate sentences if possible — is present in the same para. Please don't approach it dogmatically but as a general suggestion.

  5. Setting the context is vital. The first two sentences in a news story often called the lede, or the intro, explain the five Ws and one H - who, what, when, where, why, and how - precisely as possible. The third, fourth or fifth para will be a nut graph or a nutshell paragraph. Also spelled nut graf, it anchors the reader in the report explaining any additional context that might interest them. It summarises the story and entices the reader to continue reading. For instance, this document will help prepare to write a good story. 

  6. Consider a bare minimum of two possible reader profiles for a story: those with a higher knowledge level and those with a poorer understanding. Write only about the things the author understands. It is the scribe’s integrity and the stories' authenticity at stake. 

  7. Define the more technical terms. Suppose one needs to ink a story about public procurement; They should always define that term. e.g., 'Public procurement is the purchase of goods, services or works by the government.' Remember, even financial dailies would describe ‘repo rate’, which they often use, within the third sentence when referring to it.[1] 

  8. Remove unnecessary parentheses ([{}]) from a paragraph. Definitions can be sentences in their own right.  

  9. While using abbreviations, write the full-form followed by the short-form in brackets at the primary instance possible. In the subsequent sentences, freely use the abbreviated form.

  10. Always leave breathing space. Between each paragraph, leave a little room. Set the leading (line space) to 1.15. 

Next: The Tone & The Do's and Dont's 

Footnote: 

  • [1] Economic Times explains repo rate as 'the rate at which a country's central bank lends money to commercial banks in the event of any shortfall of funds. Monetary authorities use it to control inflation.'