Writing Formula Advice from a Newspaper Reporter

Posted on April 27, 2011 by Curt M

Every writer comes across those dreaded moments when trying to compose quality content and conjures up nothing but a blank page. Having spent nearly four decades as a newspaper reporter, I needed a dependable formula that would help me create great copy every time, since I was constantly on some sort of deadline. Fortunately, the world of newspaper journalism already provides such a formula. It is referred to as answering the “5 Ws and an H.”

5 Ws and an H?
The central task any newspaper reporter must conduct is asking questions. Therefore, the formula for asking the correct questions includes the 5 Ws and an H, which are:

Who is the central figure(s) in the story
What took place?
When did it happen?
Where did it take place?
Why did it occur?
How did it happen?

Get the Full Story
Answering these six questions every time a writer approaches any subject matter will provide a winning formula for composing at least a six-paragraph piece of copy. When applied to the task of writing a newspaper story, the copy is not complete unless all questions are answered fully. Plus, when observed even just passing, these questions never elicit a “yes or no” answer. They demand facts, which, of course, are typically what most forms of informational articles need to produce. Furthermore, asking questions has been the best time-honored method toward education since the days of Cicero. He was a Greek-educated Roman philosopher, orator, lawyer and linguist who proposed questioning as the best way toward finding out facts through:
“Quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quem ad modum, quibus adminiculis.
Translated:
Who, what, when, where, why, in what way, by what means – the last two being the “how” of it.

Interrogative Words Make Factual Determination
Interrogative words in the English language typically start with “wh.” In fact, these interrogative words are designed to elicit information and each has as its objective providing answers such as attributes including:
• Personal – who or whom
• Impersonal – what or which
• Location – where
• Source – whence
• Goal – whither
• Time – when
• Reason – why or wherefore
• Choice between two – whether
• …and then throw in that odd “H” – Manner – how

As seen, a writer can go beyond the basic 5Ws and an H to discover many other facts about the subject manner at hand that will give readers the full story.

Try It On For Size
Take any subject. That’s right – any subject at all. For example: 5 Steps Toward a Successful Lawsuit. Use the basic newspaper writing formula. Start by addressing the “what” defining a “lawsuit. This could actually act as an introductory paragraph. Open with “A lawsuit is…” “According to ___, a lawsuit is defined as …” Defining subject matter is simple education and no writer should ever assume that any reader has any knowledge of the subject at hand, unless it is specifically designated as so. This copy can then address questions such as

• Who would qualify to file a lawsuit?
• When should a lawsuit be filed?
• Where should a lawsuit be filed?
• Why should someone file a lawsuit?
• How does a person file a lawsuit?

Use it Always
The newspaper reporter’s writing formula can easily be applied to any subject matter. This may appear as a basic framework toward writing effective copy. However, following this formula always produces the necessary answers any reader will ever have about any subject. After all, clients seeking to market their wares and services need to attract customers by providing a full explanation of benefits the reader will receive doing business with this person.

Next time you are possibly stumped about how to create 500-words of relevant copy on even the most mundane and uninteresting subject, answer the 5Ws and an H and you will create a compellingly factual account. Your freelancing client will be happy with the results and, on WriterAccess, you might end up on a few Love Lists.

Curt M. is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments. WriterAccess is powered by ideaLaunch.


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