18 The Touch Test

Making sure the pieces fit together

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
Margaret Atwood

 

As we have mentioned, the nut graph is the touchstone for every other paragraph in the body. If you have a strong nut graph that is supported by the body, you will find evidence of that nut in every single paragraph you read in the article.

To test this theory, close your eyes and stick out your index finger.

Now put it down on a random paragraph in your article. Do you see evidence of the nut graph? Do it a few more times. Still seeing the nut graph?

If you see evidence of the nut everywhere you touch, great! You have a strong nut graph and body.

If you see it in most places but not all, you may need to edit, refine or delete those paragraphs.

If you rarely find it but all your paragraphs seem tied to each other, you may need to change the nut graph.

If your paragraphs are not connected and you can’t find your nut graph, it’s time to take a long, hard look at your article.

Alumni Example

Here is a story from the Ohio State Alumni Magazine about the Security and Intelligence major offered through the Department of International Studies. They were revisiting the major, established in 2015, because of the renewed look at national security after the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.

Here is the lede and nut graph:

Lede: In the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, thousands of Americans sought to heal themselves and serve their wounded nation by joining the military and intelligence branches that protect the home shores.

At Ohio State, one such seed of patriotism grew, by 2005, into the Security and Intelligence major offered through the Department of International Studies. Its goal: to create and educate the next generation of security-minded citizens within the framework of a liberal arts education.

Nut graph: Eight years later, America is once again bruised from violence at the Boston Marathon — but it is far from broken. And the Security and Intelligence major is still going strong, with expanding offerings to confront the ever-changing ways our national and individual security may be compromised.

The major concepts in the nut graph relate to:

  1. America being impacted by terrorism
  2. The major itself
  3. Why it’s offered and what students might gain from it.

Here are the remaining 12 paragraphs from the body. Do they all relate back to those ideas? Try the finger test.

  1. “After 9/11, it became apparent there was a demand among students for this kind of course work — based on patriotism — to help the country and to get a job,” said International Studies Director Anthony Mughan. “The challenge was creating a major that had high academic integrity and at the same time stronger vocational content than a lot of social science majors.”
  2. The program Mughan and his team developed focuses on understanding the components of terrorism, which he defined as “violence against citizens for political ends.” Those components include recognizing threats to national security and how governments work to counter those threats.
  3. The most noteworthy threat is a conventional war, Mughan said, adding that course work includes much about war’s history, economics and intelligence. Other topics provide an ever more comprehensive view of world security, including bioterrorism, organized crime, food security, cybersecurity, transportation, and even the basic concepts of job and personal security.
  4. “Security means many different things to different people,” Mughan, a Liverpool native, said. “Yes, there is terrorism, but immigration is also a matter of security. How about water security? The Middle East is all about water.”
  5. “We are not just protecting ourselves from guns and terrorists. We focus on security in an increasingly insecure world.”
  6. Senior lecturer Jeffrey Lewis, Ph.D., who helped establish the major, said at least 10 percent of the students have some connection to the military, as a veteran, reservist or member of ROTC, and the vast majority of students in the major view it as a means to a career.
  7. That co-mingling of the military-minded and “regular undergraduates” help both sides see the issues clearer, said Lewis.
  8. “Terrorism by nature is prone to exaggeration and hysteria,” said Lewis, who last year published the book “The Business of Martyrdom: A History of Suicide Bombing.” “It is a public service to educate students, so people who are working in the field approach it in a disciplined and informed manner.”
  9. Mughan said one of the most appealing aspects of the major is its interdisciplinary structure, with programs like Communication, Anthropology, Political Science, Sociology, History, Earth Sciences and Geography all contributing courses. The specific selections make it more vocationally focused, making the sum greater than its parts when it comes to a post-graduate job search, Mughan said.
  10. To even better serve that search, the major in 2012 began mandating a language minor, including French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Somali, Spanish or Swahili, with “critical” languages like Arabic, Chinese and Farsi strongly encouraged.
  11. Mughan said he hopes to offer a professional master’s degree in Security and Intelligence within the next three years, but his more immediate goal is to improve the curriculum so it continues to produce the next generation of security experts to serve a frightening, but ever-growing, need.
  12. “Americans think everyone wants to be American,” Mughan said. “That is part of the myth of the Great Society. But we are now seeing foreign-born [people] perpetrate terrorist acts on American soil. That is a new reality that runs counter to deeply held cultural myths. We have to be ready for that.”

Use the hourglass as a guide to ensure your anecdotal lede gets you to the nut graph and your body flows exclusively from that nut graph, before coming to rest.

Details, Details

It’s the details that make the story. The detail illuminates the subject. They are what tells you something. Whether it’s a physical description or a place, then the details show what makes it worthwhile. It advances the characterization.

Think about if it’s quirky enough that it’s worth noting. Is it significant that Mr. Jones is wearing a red tie? Probably not unless he is trying to dress like Donald Trump. In that case, the tie hanging below the belt might be more significant.

Consider if you are illuminating your subject or are you just cluttering up your. Students need to self-edit. Take a machete to it. You do not want to slow the reader down.

One trick is dialogue. Try writing the back and forth between subjects — people like it. Showing the way they speak is the way to change the pace of the story.

Open your eyes.

Everybody has one great story they tell at a party. There is one cool thing that has happened to everybody. Make sure your eyes are open and thinking about what people can tell you. Being observant will help you see stories others may not.

“Tim Layden did a piece on the 40th anniversary of a football team and they had a player who kicked a 28-yard winning field goal,” Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated said. “I called him up and asked was it a straight-on or soccer-style kick. This was in the 1970s, so it got me thinking: Who was the last straight-on kicker who made his mark mostly in the NFL. One sentence got me thinking about things. What makes you curious? What do you want to know more about?”

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