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

When composing any piece of writing, it can help to answer the 5 Ws (and How) of journalism.

Because I graduated from journalism school, much of my technique focuses around 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: Who does the article affect? 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.
  • What: 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.
  • Where: 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.
  • When: Share the when. In a news story, this is a little more important. However, it can be used in other types of writing as well. 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).
  • Why: 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.
  • How: This is something you can throw in there as needed. How did an event happen? How can you encourage your audience to take the next step? How should the reader proceed? 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.

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.


4 Responses to Freelance Writing: Using the 5 Ws (and How) of Journalism

  1. I really like this post Miranda. It’s similar to how I think when writing too – it’s that journalism mantra drummed into us I think 🙂 If we have all that covered then the whole story is there. Thanks for sharing on Bizsugar.com

    • Thanks for stopping by, Sian 🙂 When people ask me how I write so much, I often say I was trained to do it. That sort of training really does go a long way.

  2. Article writing has grown its roots in the market and I think it will make a separate job industry as blogging made its way.

  3. Hi Miranda, I’m always looking to improve my writing and I find tips like these very helpful. It should be common sense but it’s amazing how often we forget the simple things!

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