Freelance Writing and Journalism: Using the 5 Ws (and How)

Freelance writing and journalism have a lot of similarities, even if it's not a perfect correlation. One way you can enhance your writing is to use the 5 Ws (and how).

Because I graduated from journalism school, much of my technique focuses on what I learned while working on my MA at Syracuse. From the practice I received as a writer to the way I structure everything from speeches to blog posts to book chapters, my training shows in my work.

J-school, of course, emphasized the 5 Ws (and How) of journalism, and find that remembering to answer these questions can help me stay on track as I write.

For the most part, the 5 Ws (and How) are used to introduce a news story. They are questions that should be answered in the lede (it's a funny way to spell it, I know). While blog writing, and other types of writing, might not always cram all that information in an opening paragraph, it's still a good idea to answer those questions at some point during the article, book, or blog post.

What are the 5 Ws (and How)?

It's really not too hard to master this concept. Before you submit your work or hit “Publish,” read through what you've written and make sure that it answers the following questions:


Who does the article affect and who is it about? Whether you are relaying a bit of news about someone else or whether you are creating copy aimed at a specific audience, know what the piece is about and who is involved.

If you're focused on the audience, you need to know what they need to know. Once you clarify who the content is aimed at, you'll be better able to provide information that's geared toward their needs and that they'll find useful.


Next, address what happened or what is happening. Be clear about what's going on. You can also use the what to describe what should be happening.

When it comes to providing useful information, you need to make sure you're thorough about providing information that they need to take effective action. Offering background information and citations where others can learn more is also a good plan.


What is the setting? Where is this taking place? Is it a local concern, or is it something more widespread? Even in a blog post about personal finances, it's possible to identify the where — even if the where is supposed to take place in your reader's own home. Be clear about where the action happens.

With freelance writing and journalism, it's important now where the focus is and the setting. Also, provide context for where something might or might not work. Different items are more relevant in specific settings, so understanding that and sharing is important.


Share the when. In a news story, blog post, or even book, this is good information to have. If you are freelancing to provide marketing copy, you know the importance of emphasizing when (and, in marketing copy, the when is most often RIGHT NOW).

Additionally, in a lot of content, it's important to know when a piece of research was published. Old information can be irrelevant and sometimes even inaccurate. It's important to pay attention to when something took place or will take place.


Is there a compelling reason to be reading this post or taking this action? Is there a reason that the news event took place? WHY is the economy such a mess? Why are you reading this blog post? (Hopefully, it's because you think I have something valuable to share, and I have amply demonstrated that.) As you write, either provide logical reasons and evidence for why something is happening or provide a compelling reason why the reader should take action.


This is something you can throw in there as needed. How can you encourage your audience to take the next step? Is there a way they should proceed based on the other information you've shared? Look at the background to see what you can find. The idea is to expose some sort of machination that might be useful or interesting (or both) to the reader.

Bottom Line: Freelance Writing and Journalism

As a freelance writer, applying some concepts from journalism can help you become a stronger writer — and appear more professional. While you can tweak your voice and take liberties with structure, there are some concepts related to journalistic writing that can enhance your freelance career.

The way you answer the above questions can help you consider the relevance and interest of your work. Making sure that you answer the 5 Ws (and How) of journalism can not only help you produce stronger, more attention-grabbing opening paragraphs, but they can also help you throughout whatever you are writing. No matter what you produce and what client you produce it for, answering these questions can go a long way toward ensuring that your writing remains focused and clear and that it accomplishes its purpose.

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