How to use the 5 W's of Writing
The 5 W's of Communication
Getting a degree in Journalism teaches you many ways and styles of writing, but it also teaches you HOW to Communicate! After studying for many years, I finally realized that good writing boils down to the basic 5 W's. Who, What, When, Where, Why. How is actually a 6th 'W', but more about that later.
Start with the basics:
- Who is writing the note, letter, story, invitation, communication, etc...
- Who is the subject?
- Who is the audience?
- Who is going to read it?
- Learn the difference between first person view, second person view, and third person view. Most writers for money use the third person voice. Second person view is friendly and open as well as engaging to the reader.
If you can't answer this first question, then why write at all?
What the heck is your communication about? Don't just ramble on and get sidetracked. Stay focused on the subject. The 'whats' include (but are not limited to):
- What is the purpose of the letter, note, blog, etc...?
- What does the subject hope to accomplish?
- Is it an invitation to a party?
- Is it informative/educational?
- What do you want the reader to know?
- Does it have a beginning, a middle and an end?
You must clearly identify what your communication is all about. This is otherwise known as plotting a story.
What to write about?
- Write what you know about, what you are familiar with
- Research everything even if you think you know it all
- Write timeless articles that teach and inform
- Use lots of facts and figures
Always include a time frame! Is it for right now, this instant? This may be implied and not have to be stated in a date and time format, but if you are doing an invitation, you MUST include the date and time. You would be surprised how many times I've gotten a meeting invite, but no time or date!
If you're writing something that seems timeless, guess what? It isn't! There is always a time frame for everything. Find it.
- Does your plot include a seasonal reference?
- Is there a deadline for the story?
- Is there a deadline for the characters in the story to accomplish their goal?
- Is there an historical time frame?
Time is as much a part of the story as anything else. It is a parameter that should not be ignored.
When do you write?
Set aside specific times of your day to write. Force yourself to write something! Make it a habit. Just start typing. You may be a morning writer or middle of the night writer. Try to be consistent.
Another item that is frequently missed. Either the place is not specified at all or there are no directions on how to get there!
This is oh so important in invitations! You get the Who, What, When, but forget to detail the Where!
Where is where the action takes place in communications, be it in a novel, a letter, a blog, or even a simple note.
- Where do your characters come from?
- Where do they work?
- Where is the place on the globe that defines your background?
Don't forget to set up a home office for your writing. You must have a space dedicated to writing. It's tax deductible!
Ah! The heart of all communication! Why should I or anyone else read what you have written? This is where you have to make things interesting.
- Express urgency.
- Ask for feedback.
- Inform your readers.
- Write something about other people (people are interesting beings).
- Write something about a current event.
- Expand on a background story.
- Make your article a resource to refer back to.
- Paint a picture with words.
Good stories all contain the 5 W's PLUS the following formula....
I told you I would come back to this one. Ok, I've got some really cool people who want to fight city hall to get a Super Dome built. How, do I put this down on paper?
First, don't forget the first 5 W's - Who, What, When, Where, Why - Memorize these! Define the people fighting for their goal. Define their reasons for wanting a Super Dome. Define the time frame for accomplishing their goal. Where will the Super Dome be built? How will this be accomplished?
Keep in mind that these characters must be interesting, they are fighting city hall to achieve a worth wile goal.
Now here are the How's of good writing:
- Never use cliches, metaphors, similes, or dull figures of speech.
- Never use long words when short ones will work better.
- Re-write to cut out all unnecessary words.
- Use an active style over a passive style. Use a lot of active verbs!
- Don't use foreign, scientific words, or jargon when everyday words will be more understandable.
- Use accurate and direct quotes for color, pace, and emphasis. Don't overdo it.
- Use exciting adjectives and adverbs, things like - "explosive apple" or "wormy apple"
- Keep paragraphs short.
- Use a "human" sympathetic voice. Relate to your characters.
- Keep sentences short.
- Break any of the above "rules" before writing something that sounds awkward for you.
- ALWAYS use your spell checker and grammar checker!
Good Story Formula!
Good stories all have this in common:
- Feature appealing, interesting characters
- Striving against great or impossible odds
- To achieve a worthwhile goal
That's the big writing secret! If you don't believe me, think about it for a while! Compare this formula to anything written, be it a novel, short story, screenplay, movie, play, whatever!
Almost everything written appeals to our basic needs. These are the things that make our life complete. Aside from food and shelter, we seek out these things to enrich our life. Writing with the basic needs in mind makes all of our communication more interesting.
How many basic needs do you think will apply to your future communications?
Write often, write well, and re-write, re-write, re-write!
Common Grammar Errors
Common grammar mistakes explained...
- I could not care less versus I couldn't care less - Who cares? Your reader cares.
- Plurals are not formed with apostrophes - they are formed by simply adding an 's' or an 'es' to the end of a noun. The word 'plural' means there is more than one of them.
- If you can take a photo, it 'literally' happened. If you say that pigs have wings, that is a figurative statement.
- One can have 'loose' change in their pocket, or one can 'lose' money at the casino.
- This is a big one! Your grammar mistakes mean that you're illiterate. (You're is a contraction of the two words - YOU and ARE.)
- Another big one! Their, There and They're are three totally different words. Their = belonging to - as in THEIR truck or THEIR face. There = a place as in over there by the door; They're = a contraction of the two words THEY and ARE as in They're on their way.
- Nonplus means - "a state of bafflement or perplexity". It is better to use the word 'QUANDARY"
- Affected is a descriptive word used to indicate that lungs are affected by smoking. An effect is an actual noun as in "a sound effect".
- It's is the contraction of the two words IT and IS. Its is a single word indicating possession as in "its shadow is following me".
- Regardless should not have the Irr in front. Just say, "regardless".
Better Writing Hints and Tips
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Rules for Writers
When students routinely use their handbook in the course, they see its value, find that it’s a faster way to get answers than search engines like Google, learn to rely on it as a reference, and are more likely to achieve the goals of the course.
© 2009 Austinstar
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