Five Ws and One H: The Secret to Complete News Stories

If you ever sat through Journalism 101, you know all about the Five Ws and one H. For the rest of you, you may find this concept helpful when preparing interview questions or writing factual news stories. This concept may help you write better news releases too, considering they should contain news.

What are the Five Ws and One H? They are Who, What, Why, When, Where and How. Why are the Five Ws and One H important? Journalism purists will argue your story isn’t complete until you answer all six questions. It’s hard to argue this point, since missing any of these questions leaves a hole in your story. Even if you’re not reporting on the news of the day, this concept could be useful in many professional writing scenarios.

In case it’s not obvious what information you would be looking to gather from each of the six questions, let’s look at what information you might want to gather with the Five Ws and One H if you were reporting on The Three Little Pigs:

  • Who was involved? The three little pigs (the first pig, the second pig and the third pig) and The Big Bad Wolf (a.k.a. Wolf).
  • What happened? Each pig constructed a house out of different materials (straw, sticks and bricks). Wolf (allegedly) threatened to blow over their houses and is believed to have destroyed both the straw and stick homes at this time. Pig one and two were able to flee to the brick house, where they remain at the moment. We’re still waiting to hear from local authorities, but it looks like the Wolf may have been injured while attempting to enter the brick house.
  • Where did it take place? Outside a straw house, a stick house and a brick house.
  • When did it take place? At various times throughout the day.
  • Why did it happen? Apparently the Big Bad Wolf was trying to eat the pigs. Several eyewitnesses recall the Wolf taunting the pigs before he destroyed the straw and stick homes by chanting, “Little pigs, little pigs, let me in.” The pigs apparently scoffed at the Wolf’s idle treats, saying “Not by the hair of our chinny, chin chins.” It’s believed this angered the Wolf and led to him blowing the houses down.
  • How did it happen? It would appear the first two homes were not built to withstand the Wolf’s powerful breath. The incident inside the brick house is still being investigated, but early indications suggest the Wolf fell into a boiling pot of water when trying to enter the house through the chimney.

It’s a silly example, but you can see how getting answers to these six questions can really help you get all the information needed to write an accurate report. Next time you are preparing interview questions or outlining a story, consider walking through the Five Ws and One H to see if you left anything out.

Did you read all the way to the end of this post? As a special treat for your dedication, here’s a fantastic Five Ws quote from Rudyard Kipling (courtesy of Five Ws – Wikipedia):

“I keep six honest serving-men, (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who” –
Rudyard Kipling

(Image Credit: Amazon.com)

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.

11 Comments

  1. As a PR/corporate communications professional I employ these six questions often, plus one more: who cares. That’s the clincher for deciding if your news release truly is news worthy.

      • Jeremy,

        I teach grades 4-6 in a Montessori school in Michigan, USA. Your blog so succinctly summarizes the journalistic process, I could not have said it better myself! I will be passing out your blog today, and we’re going to start working on a class newspaper. If you check in, I’ll let you know how it goes!

        Keith

  2. Hi,

    My name is Andy Mitchell and I am an undergraduate student at London Metropolitan University.

    I saw this post and thought it would be an excellent way to discuss the 5Ws and one H in an academic book I am helping with on study skills and critical thinking.

    If we acknowledge and reference you could we get permission to use the Three little pigs example in the 4th edition of Essential Study Skills by Sandra Sinfield and Tom Burns?

    Thanks

    Andy

    • Thanks for your interest Andy. Sorry I didn’t reply sooner – your comment was mixed in with hundreds of spam comments I received over the summer. I’m sure you’ve wrapped up your book by now, but please keep us in mind for future work you do.

  3. Thank You very much for the reminder of the 5 W’s. They help me to be more alert when writing my essays.

    Robert Mathews

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