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How to use the 5 W's of Writing

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L. Cargill, Medical Laboratory Scientist, ASCP. Retired blood banker and laboratorian. Loves to write about a wide range of subjects. Enjoy!

Journalistic Writing

How to write

How to write

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.

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Where does the news or story take place?


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:

  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. If you are introducing a new word or concept, explain it.
  6. Use accurate and direct quotes for color, pace, and emphasis. Don't overdo it.
  7. Use exciting adjectives and adverbs sparingly - "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 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.

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

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

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

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

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. Using an apostrophe indicates possession or ownership.
  3. If you can take a photo of it, 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 thing 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", not "irregardless".

Reference 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.

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


Robert Sacchi on August 11, 2019:

Perhaps, but they seem to be the ones that get the big buck lately.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on August 11, 2019:

Journalists that sneak in opinions are called biased and do opinion editorial pieces. This is not true journalism.

Robert Sacchi on August 11, 2019:

Good information. I do take issue with, "Journalists try to keep opinions out of news reporting." The book might say so but journalists insert opinions into the reporting all the time. It's usually just a matter of how sneaky they are about it.

Catherine Giordano from Orlando Florida on August 01, 2017:

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.

Michele Kelsey from Edmond, Oklahoma on July 24, 2013:

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

The address is:

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on July 23, 2013:

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.

Michele Kelsey from Edmond, Oklahoma on July 23, 2013:

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

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on April 14, 2013:

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

Mary Wickison from USA on April 14, 2013:

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.

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on March 10, 2013:

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 Lameire from New Mexico on March 09, 2013:

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?

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on February 01, 2012:

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

Anonymous on January 27, 2012:

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

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on December 19, 2011:

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

Springboard from Wisconsin on December 19, 2011:

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.

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on March 05, 2011:

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!

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on March 05, 2011:

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.

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on March 05, 2011:

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:-)

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on March 05, 2011:

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

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on March 05, 2011:

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:)

Lela (author) from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on March 05, 2011:

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

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on March 05, 2011:

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 from Sunny Spain on September 03, 2010:

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.

ghost on March 21, 2010:

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

Simon from NJ, USA on January 20, 2010:

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

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