Chapter 21: Using Twitter to assist students in writing a concise nut graph – The Plugged-In Professor


Using Twitter to assist students in writing a concise nut graph

Tia C.M. Tyree


One of the foundational writing, pitching, and reporting skills students learn in the communication field is how to encapsulate information using the “5Ws”, which are Who, What, When, Where, and Why. This assignment provides students with a sample formula to use that will allow them to concisely provide information to an audience and challenge them to do so, both with and without time constraints. Many students are being hired to use social media, including Twitter, as a channel to communicate with a company’s stakeholders. This assignment gives students a chance to sharpen their ability to write a concise nut graph (a journalistic paragraph that summarizes the news value of the story) as well as participate in live microblogging with classmates in an effort to sharpen their summarization and audience engagement skills.

Key words



effective writing


nut graph

strategic thinking



Discipline/Academic areas addressed

This activity is applicable across many communication disciplines, including journalism, public relations, and marketing. It can also be adapted to any discipline in which concise writing is desirable.

Instructional purpose

The nut graph is an important paragraph for it helps the reader understand the significance or “point” of an article. It offers the “so what” for those reading and provides the reader with the reasons to care about the topic. When constructing a proper nutgraph, it is important to clearly and concisely write the 5 W’s – Who, What, When, Where, and Why. When journalism students are taught to write inverted pyramid articles for newspapers, they are taught the importance of writing a strong nut graph. For students entering the public relations field, it, too, is important, because students must be able to provide readers with the compelling reason – the “so what”; they should care about a topic and heed a call to action offered on behalf of a client. PR students may also be taught to write summary leads, which contain the same type of information as the nut graph. Therefore, it is important for students to learn to create a well-written nut graph that can summarize, pitch, or describe what will happen, is happening, or has happened.

Student learning outcomes

1. Students will improve their ability to clearly and concisely write a nut graph.

2. Students will learn to engage audiences during a live event.

3. Students will improve their ability to summarize information.

Prerequisite skills and knowledge

Basic computer skills and access to the Internet, which most students possess.

Step-by-step directions

First class

1. Students should bring three newspaper articles written in inverted pyramid style to class.

2. In class, they will be introduced to the Nutgraph Twitter Formula (see below).

3. Each student will be asked to locate the nut graph in the articles. Once done, they should critically think about how to summarize the information and use the formula to develop a concise tweet.

4. Students should share their tweets with one another in small groups.

Second class

1. Students should be reminded of the formula and asked to watch a video screened by the professor in class.

2. Each student should write sample tweets using the Nutgraph Twitter Formula during the screening. The first should provide a preview of the video. The second should be constructed at the midway point and offer a compelling idea within the video, and the last should summarize the video.

3. Tweets should not be sent live. Instead, at the end of the class, the professor should ask students to get into small groups and share their potential tweets, which will provide them with a chance to obtain feedback and constructive criticism about how the information was structured and learn which tweets were the most successful in summarizing information and answering the “so what” question.

Third class

1. The professor should identify one television program students will watch and liveblog.

2. Students should receive a hashtag to use as a means to track tweets.

3. Using the formula, students should again be asked to develop three tweets – one in the beginning, middle, and end of the program. However, the second (middle) tweet should contain a question or a call to action designed to engage the audience and get individuals to respond in some behavioral way on the Internet (e.g., sign a petition, log onto a blog, “like” a Facebook page, retweet a message).

Fourth class

1. The professor should take a few moments in the beginning of class to engage students in a discussion about the liveblogging session.

2. While searching Twitter for the hashtag, students should review tweets to note which ones provided proper summaries and information with the 5 W’s.

3. Students should also note how many retweets, responses to questions, and other types of audience engagement occurred.

Nutgraph Twitter Formula

 Who: Use the handle of the person or entity at the center of the topic (e.g., @PRSA, @HowardU), or shorten the topic to a hashtag (e.g., #Olympics, #Starbucks).

 What: This should be five to seven words that summarize what is happening (e.g., releasing a book, holding a fund-raiser for autism, having a grand opening ceremony).

 When: This should include the day and time. To simplify the time, the number of the hour and first letter of the time period should be used. For example, 7 p.m. becomes 7p. There are several options for the date. Whenever possible, students should use “today”, “tonight”, or “tomorrow” as the date. However, if the event is farther away, only the number of the day and month should be used (e.g., 3/12).

 Where: Students should note the exact street location or use the Twitter handle of the location (e.g., @STAPLESCenterLA, @TimesSquareNYC).

 Why: This is probably the most important aspect of the formula, students should work to summarize the “point” here. Students should work to answer the “so what” question in five to seven words. Here is the optimal chance for public relations students to place the call for action. When structuring tweets designed to engage feedback or behavioral change, this section should include a question or directions on what to do, such as vote, press the “like” sign, comment, or call.

 Link: Students are encouraged to use a site, such as

    to shorten links and provide more information.

 Hashtags: If possible, hashtags should be used to increase visibility in the “Twittersphere”.

 Examples (the examples below are fictitious and used for illustrative purposes)

 @Frontsteps rallying @TheNationalMall on 4/1(9a) to increase awareness + raise money. Support us. Come march.

 @BarackObama speaking at @Frontsteps rally now. He says “any one of us could be homeless one day.” Do you agree? #homelessness #poll.

 50,000 attend @Frontsteps rally @TheNationalMall today. $100 K raised to fight homelessness. See pics/Get recap.

How do you know you are meeting your student learning objectives

Students should be able to write a tweet that has all 5 W’s. This is the foundational principal of the assignment, and it is what is needed to convey basic information. To ensure tweets are clear and concise, they must be readable and free from unnecessary jargon and abbreviations. Ultimately, tweets must provide the essence of the event being captured. They should not allude to points, but be able to stand alone and be understood, regardless of whether a person has seen or been a part of an event being discussed. Finally, engagement on Twitter can be measured by a retweet, answer to a question or a general comment to a tweet. It shows the tweet has grabbed the attention of someone enough in the Twittersphere to prompt a response. What is also critical to engagement is continuing to answer significant tweets from respondents until a mutually agreed-upon end to the conversation or official end to the program, event, or discussion. Students must not send tweets and then ignore those who respond.

Approximate time required

Four class sessions are needed.

Required resources

 Television to view program to liveblog.

 Computer or smartphone to access Twitter and Internet.

 Access to a newspaper either hard copy or online.

 Camera or smartphone with a camera, if the student wants to provide photographs.

Variations on the basic theme

Twitter’s 140-character tweet limitations help push students to think critically about exactly what is needed to best explain the important information about an idea, issue, or event. By challenging students in this manner, students are forced to carefully select their words and only use what is essential to convey basic, yet necessary, information. In addition, since Twitter is a social medium, it is an ideal training ground for students to engage audiences, which is a critical aspect of public relations. Live microblogging is becoming a more common way to engage audiences, and it will help students begin to understand and develop the skill.

Developing a concise nut graph using the formula can also be utilized on Facebook. In fact, with the many features that allow students to add rich media, such as videos and audio, Facebook provides another social media platform for students to share ideas and exercise their ability to summarize information in the form of a post.

Observations and advice

When I have asked students to write a tweet that includes the 5 W’s, they think it is easy. However, when it is time to structure the actual tweet, they run out of space, forget to include one of the essential components, or simply fall short of the goal of summarizing the key information. Further, students do not understand the importance of providing a link for the audience to obtain more information at their leisure, nor do they understand the need to use hashtags or proper Twitter handles for those entities currently using the medium. Once introduced to the formula, students quickly and easily developed “nut graph tweets” without hesitation, because each of the components was readily available to simply “plug in”. Further, they could now focus more on how to strategically select the proper words needed to summarize the information, instead of whether they were including all of the required components.

Recommended reading

Botha, D., Botha, C. Public Relations: Fresh Perspectives. Cape Town, South Africa: Pearson, 2007; 137–140.

Ehrlich, K., Shami, N.S., Microblogging inside and outside the workplaceFourth International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, Washington, D.C. Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, 2010.

Honeycutt, C., Herring, S.C., Beyond microblogging: Conversation and collaboration via Twitter. HICSS 2009: Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. IEEE Computer Society, Washington, D.C, 2009:1–10.

Huberman, B.A., Romero, D.M., Wu, F. Social networks that matter: Twitter under the microscope. First Monday. 14(1), 2008.

Jansen, B., Zhang, M., Chowdury, A. Twitter power: Tweets as electronic word of mouth. Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 2009; 60(11):2169–2188.

Java, A., Song, X., Finin, T., Tseng, B., Why we twitter: Understanding microblogging usage and communities. Proceedings of the Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD) Workshop, San Jose, CA, 2007:56–65.

Kwak, H., Lee, C., Park, H., Moon, S., What is Twitter, a social network or a news media?. Proceedings of the 19th International World Wide Web (WWW) Conference, Raleigh, NC, 2010.

Naaman, M., Boase, J., Lai, C., Is it really about me? Message content in social awareness streams. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 2010:189–192.

Lenhert, A., Fox, S. Twitter and Status Updating (Pew Internet & American Life Project). Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center; 2009.

Rolnicki, T.E., Tate, C.D., Taylor, T. Scholastic Journalism. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing; 2007.

Rich, C., Writing and Reporting News: A Coaching Method. Wadsworth, Boston, MA, 2010:132.

Wilcox, D. Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques, Sixth Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson Education; 2009.