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.
Communication is also a two way street. Me just talking to you is not communication. You must talk to me also.
Everyone is going to have an opinion. Journalists try to keep opinions out of news reporting. News reporting is only for broadcasting facts of events.
But now, almost every news station seems to have "opinion" panels, and "what if" panels. These aren't the news, and barely qualify as communications! They are more speculative and entertaining.
If you want the facts, listen to straight news only. Every "opinion" panel piece is biased in some way, and what Trump calls, "fake news".
Unfortunately, Social Media thrives on opinions!
Start with the basics:
- Who is the news about?
- Who is the subject of the event or interview?
- Who is the audience?
- Who is going to read it - for marketing purposes?
- First person view is written from the perspective of the main character.
- Second person view is written from someone close to the main character.
- Third person view is written from above - the writer sees all, knows all, about all of the characters.
If you can't answer the 'who' criteria, then your news story lacks substance?
What is your communication about? Don't just ramble on and get sidetracked. Stay focused on the subject.
- What is the purpose of the story?
- What do you hope to accomplish?
- Is it news?
- Is it an invitation to a party?
- Is it informative/educational?
- What do you want the reader to know after reading the story?
- Does it have a beginning, a middle and an end?
- Write what you know about, what you are familiar with.
- Research everything even if you think you know it all. Present references.
- Write timeless articles that teach and inform.
- Use lots of true and personal anecdotes, facts, and figures.
You must clearly identify what your communication is all about. This is otherwise known as plotting a story.
Always refer to some sort of time frame!
- Use the current date and time if applicable.
- All invitations must include a date and time. Surprisingly, many people forget this.
- 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.
Helpful hints for time frames:
Storyboards come in handy for setting timelines.
Stay true to the time period in which you are writing.
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.
Where does the news or story take place?
Keeping a map handy helps to pinpoint the where of a story.
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 the news, a novel, a letter, a blog, or even a simple note.
- Where do your characters live?
- 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.
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....
Good Story Formula!
Good stories all have this in common:
- They feature appealing, interesting characters.
- The characters are striving against great or impossible odds.
- They are working 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 the news, a novel, short story, screenplay, movie, play, whatever!
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, and they are fighting city hall to achieve a worthwhile goal.
Now here are some 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. If you are introducing a new word or concept, explain it.
- Use accurate and direct quotes for color, pace, and emphasis. Don't overdo it.
- Use exciting adjectives and adverbs sparingly - "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!
Writing while appealing to our basic needs....
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.
If you know of some other basic needs, please mention them in a comment below.
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. Using an apostrophe indicates possession or ownership.
- If you can take a photo of it, 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', instead of nonplussed.
- Affected is a descriptive word used to indicate that lungs are affected by smoking. An effect is an actual thing 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", not "irregardless".
Reference Rules for writers:
There are several handbooks that all writers should have in their library.
HubPages has an extensive help section. Read it!
There are thousands of guidebooks on how to write. I'm sure you will find one that suits your needs.
© 2009 Lela