5 W’s and H- Reporting Checklist
While the notion of citizen journalism is becoming more exponential and remarkable, I can’t help but think bloggers and citizen journalists would serve their readers better by sticking to some of the tried and true concepts of writing. Borrowing a thing or two from age old journalistic practices might help…..like the concept of the 5W’s and H.
The number 1 secret to writing a proper and complete news article is through mastering the “5 W’s and H”. You will find this concept helpful when preparing interview questions or writing factual news stories. The 5 W’s and the H refers to the six questions that a reporter should answer in the lead paragraph of a news story (as long as they are relevant and make sense). This concept may help you write better news releases too, considering they also contain news.
So what are the 5 W’s and H?
“I keep six honest serving-men, (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who” – Rudyard Kipling
A story/article is not complete if it does not have all the 5 elements and missing one may leave an enormous information gap in your article. Mastering the 5 W’s and H concept is important not only for reporting the news of the day but even for any professional writing.
Benefits of using the 5 W’s and H
Eases the creative writing flow
This concept is mainly applied at the brainstorming stage of writing, before you do the initial research for an article. This simple outline can really help to gather your ideas and deliver a clear and concise message. By knowing who was involved, what happened, where it happened, why it happened, and how it happened, a story will have an obvious flow that will make it easier for readers to follow a story, lead, and even an interview.
Prevents story-line detours
This concept is also important for writers who have trouble outlining the information or structuring it. It helps to keep you on track so that you avoid going off topic.
Fact checking tool
The 5 W’s and H are also important for fact checking, for both the reader and the writer. As a writer you should constantly check if your story answers all these questions before you send it for publishing.
The 5 W’s and H in detail:
In journalism, the “what” identifies an event and is often stated in the intro or the first paragraph of a news story. The “what” is the primary subject, the reason the information is being gathered and presented. Apart from journalism, it may be stated in a title and in a purpose statement.
It all comes down to: What is your topic narrowed down in a simple phrase/sentence? What does your topic involve? (i.e. What are the different parts to it?) What is it similar to / different from? What might be affected/changed by your topic?
A news story identifies who an event involves. The “who” may be part of the lead/intro and could be the reason the story is news worthy. In other contexts, the “who” identifies the person(s) or group(s) the “what” concerns. It might describe the audience of a document, or those who are affected by a policy, process or procedure. Who is involved? Who is affected? Who will benefit? Who will be harmed?
A key part of a news story is describing “when” an event happened. Answering the “when” indicates any time-sensitivity related to the “what.” It may be part of an instruction regarding the proper point at which an action should be taken. Sometimes it may be part of an “If…then” scenario of conditional action. “When” does this take place? “When” did this take place? “When” will it take place? “When” should this take place? Does “when” this takes place affect the topic?
A news story reports the location at which an event took place. The “where” describes a geographical or physical location of importance to the “what.” Where does this take place? (“Where” did it …. “Where” will it … “Where” should it ….?). At times, the “where” may be less important than other factors.
The “why” is usually the most neglected of the questions in the framework. News stories often lack information from authoritative sources to explain the “why.” Why is this topic important? Why does it matter? Why do certain things happen? (What are some causes and effects within the topic?). Efforts to determine and explain the “why” may help those affected to be more accepting of any change that the “what” requires.
For journalists, determining how an event took place may be nearly as challenging as explaining the “why,” although more effort is usually put into satisfying the question. When describing policies, processes or procedures, the “how” may be the most important part of the effort. How does this topic work? How does it function? How does it do what it does? How did it come to be? How are those involved affected?
Having answered the: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of the story, your information starts coming up together like pieces of a puzzle. Once your first paragraph or lead answers all the questions it becomes easy to create a story outline with the right and clear information flow.
The 5 W’s and H are your starting point in writing and can just be good enough to take you to the end.
In the next post, I will show you how you can use the 5 W’s and H in writing an actual story.