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How to use the 5 W's of Writing

Updated on November 21, 2016
Austinstar profile image

Lela earned a B.A. degree in Journalism from Sam Houston University in Huntsville, TX. She has been writing for the online world for years.

Journalistic Writing

How to write
How to write | Source

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 writer?
  • Who is the subject?
  • 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 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.

  • What is the purpose of the book, letter, note, blog, etc...?
  • What does the writer 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 anecdotes, 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 sets the timelines and feel of history.

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 in the world are you?

A markerNorth America -
United States
get directions

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 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....

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 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 worth wile goal.

Now here are the How's of good writing:

  1. Never use cliches, metaphors, similes, or dull figures of speech.
  2. Never use long words when short ones will work better.
  3. Re-write to cut out all unnecessary words.
  4. Use an active style over a passive style. Use a lot of active verbs!
  5. Don't use foreign, scientific words, or jargon when everyday words will be more understandable.
  6. Use accurate and direct quotes for color, pace, and emphasis. Don't overdo it.
  7. Use exciting adjectives and adverbs, things like - "explosive apple" or "wormy apple"
  8. Keep paragraphs short.
  9. Use a human sympathetic voice. Relate to your characters.
  10. Keep sentences short.
  11. Break any of the above rules before writing something that sounds awkward for you.
  12. Always use your spell checker and grammar checker!

Writing Prompts

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.

  • Love
  • Happiness
  • Esteem
  • Companionship
  • Achievement
  • Confidence
  • Recognition
  • Honesty
  • Dignity
  • Sex
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Stability
  • Dependency

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

You know you're guilty of some of these grammar mistakes!
You know you're guilty of some of these grammar mistakes! | Source

Common grammar mistakes explained...

  1. I could not care less versus I couldn't care less - Who cares? Your reader cares.
  2. 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.
  3. If you can take a photo, it 'literally' happened. If you say that pigs have wings, that is a figurative statement.
  4. One can have 'loose' change in their pocket, or one can 'lose' money at the casino.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. Nonplus means - "a state of bafflement or perplexity". It is better to use the word 'quandary', instead of nonplussed.
  8. 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".
  9. 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".
  10. Regardless should not have the Irr in front. Just say, "regardless".

Rules for writers

There are several handbooks that all writers should have in their library.

If you are writing in a journalistic style, the AP Handbook is essential!

If you are writing a novel, the How to Write a Novel type books are a great guideline.

There are thousands of guidebooks on how to write. I'm sure you will find one that suits your needs.

© 2009 Lela


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    • CatherineGiordano profile image

      Catherine Giordano 5 months ago from Orlando Florida

      Great ideas to help writers get organized. I always think of writing as a journey. (I even wrote an article about it--How to Write Better Reports and Presentations). You can't just ramble on--you have to know where you want to get to, what the "take-away" will be, and then you take the reader by the hand, and step by step, you take him there.

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 4 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      Thanks! I am happy we can help each other out! :) It's always good to be a team.

      The address is:

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      You may add links to any hub you want! Everyone appreciates being linked to. Thanks.

      Let me know when the hub is done and I'll come spread the word.

    • misslong123 profile image

      Michele Kelsey 4 years ago from Edmond, Oklahoma

      This is a great hub! Way to go! I think this will help many writers improve their hubs. I am working on HubPage checklist. Could I add a link to this Hub? Michele

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      It's a very condensed version of what I learned in Journalism school.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 4 years ago from Brazil

      This was very helpful. It should be sent out to everyone that wants to start writing online. I think as we age, we forget much of what we were taught in school. We have become lazy with language. I will definitely be sharing this. Very useful.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Linking is a great way to share hubs with others! I understand why grammar is so difficult. The rules must be memorized as many of them do not make sense to the casual writer. I'll be on the lookout for your misnomers!

    • Joyce Wallace profile image

      Joyce Lameire 4 years ago from New Mexico

      Thank you for contacting about the Hub Pages and process. I loved fining a hub specifically geared to grammar. As a speech therapist and researcher, grammar is my worst enemy when grading my students reports. Mind if I link to your hub with some of my own misnomers?

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 5 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Become a writer! Think of yourself as a professional and just do it.

    • profile image

      Anonymous 5 years ago

      This is going to help me so much!!! Thanks!!!!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Good luck Springboard! I have to remind myself frequently to use these techniques.

    • Springboard profile image

      Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

      Gosh. I fail on the jumping around thing. Of course, I write mostly opinion. But perhaps I should consider these things more often than not when writing my opinion so as not to lose the reader in all of my thoughts. :)

      Very much needed article, so thanks.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I always wondered about that! You would not like driving here. I am afraid in St. Louis - those signs would be full of bullet holes and that is nothing to smile about! I stayed (I was 17 and my best friends dad got a job at the plant) in Bay City. Her family missed me - and they asked if I wanted to come and stay. Now how could my restless heart say no? Everyone that knew us called us the Yankee girls:-). I still smile about that! It is true what they say about Texas - everything is bigger including a Texan's heart!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I think we do still have those ruts! But there has been an amazing influx of non-natives and the driving is not so friendly anymore in the cities anyway. Dallas and Houston are impossible. Even here in NW Travis county where I live the traffic is getting ridiculous. The country towns are still pretty nice.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Omg! You are too nice! I don't know how to measure my growth! I just love to write, found this place (thank the stars) and dove right in before I knew what I was doing. I bet you know the feeling of how your fingers almost itch to write things down?

      Oh - and btw - I stayed in Texas for several months. It was the best time of my young life. I loved it there! If I could move anywhere - it would be back there. Do they still have all the "Drive Friendly" signs? I loved those - also the ruts on the side of two lane roads where people would pull over if an approaching vehicle was going faster than you?

      Thank you Austinstar:-) You have made the start of a really nice night for me:-)

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      You're doing great with a 92 score already and hardly any hubs! I didn't get to the 90's for months.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Oh don't we all! But I know I have writing issues (dangling things and fragmented things) and for me - this is a tool! I need this advice. I love your pages and hope some day mine will be that good:)

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I refer to it too! Not as much as I should, but I think I should really try to remember my own advice :-)

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      This is about the third time I have revisited this advice for my own personal growth - so I wanted you to know how important this information was for a newbie. I also wanted to thank you again.

      You pointed out that a writer should make the information a resource - and that is exactly what you have done with this piece.

    • maggs224 profile image

      maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

      I have voted this hub up and hit the useful button. Now I need to bookmark it so I can refer to it when I need it. This is well written and packed full of useful and practical information.

    • profile image

      ghost 7 years ago

      A great Hub - good info - well written. Thank you for sharing.

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 7 years ago from NJ, USA

      Great info here - must remember the 5 Ws - methinks I should bookmark this page - my memory is bad....