Five Ws

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In journalism, the Five Ws (also known as the Five Ws (and one H)) is a concept in news style, research, and in police investigations that are regarded as basics in information-gathering.[1] It is a formula for getting the "full" story on something. The maxim of the Five Ws (and one H) is that in order for a report to be considered complete it must answer a checklist of six questions, each of which comprises an interrogative word:[2]


[edit] Principle

The principle underlying the maxim is that each question should elicit a factual answer — facts necessary to include for a report to be considered complete.[3] Importantly, none of these questions can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no".

In the context of the "news style" for newspaper reporting, the Five Ws are types of facts that should be contained in the "lead" (sometimes spelled lede to avoid confusion with the typographical term "leading" or similarly spelled words), or first two or three paragraphs of the story, after which more expository writing is allowed.

[edit] Representation

Wikisource has original text related to this article:

The "Five Ws" (and one H) were memorialized by Rudyard Kipling in his "Just So Stories" (1902), in which a poem accompanying the tale of "The Elephant's Child" opens with:

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.

They may also be remembered using a picture. The picture represents five bottoms on a bed; the bottoms are the five "Ws" and the bed is the letter "H".

[edit] History

Prof. William Cleaver Wilkinson popularized the "Three W's" – What? Why? What of it? – as a method of bible study in the 1880s, though he did not claim originality. This became the "Five W's", though the application was rather different from that in journalism:

"What? Why? What of it?" is a plan of study of alliterative methods for the teacher emphasized by Professor W.C. Wilkinson not as original with himself but as of venerable authority. "It is, in fact," he says, "an almost immemorial orator's analysis. First the facts, next the proof of the facts, then the consequences of the facts. This analysis has often been expanded into one known as "The Five W's:" "When? Where? Whom? What? Why?" Hereby attention is called, in the study of any lesson: to the date of its incidents; to their place or locality; to the person speaking or spoken to, or to the persons introduced, in the narrative; to the incidents or statements of the text; and, finally, to the applications and uses of the lesson teachings.[4]

By 1917, the "Five W's" were being taught in high-school journalism classes,[5] and by 1940, the "Five W's" were being characterized as old-fashioned and fallacious:

The old-fashioned lead of the five W's and the H, crystallized largely by Pulitzer's "new journalism" and sanctified by the schools, is widely giving way to the much more supple and interesting feature lead, even on straight news stories.[6]

All of you know about — and I hope all of you admit the fallacy of — the doctrine of the five W's in the first sentence of the newspaper story.[7]

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Knowing What's What and What's Not: The Five W's (and 1 "H") of Cyberspace". Media Awareness Network. Retrieved on September 12 2008. 
  2. ^ "The Five W's of Online Help". by Geoff Hart, TECHWR-L. Retrieved on September 12 2008. 
  3. ^ "Five More Ws for Good Journalism". COPY EDITING, InlandPress. Retrieved on September 12 2008. 
  4. ^ Henry Clay Trumbull, Teaching and Teachers, Philadelphia, 1888, p. 120 text at Google Books
  5. ^ Leon Nelson Flint, Newspaper Writing in High Schools, Containing an Outline for the Use of Teachers, University of Kansas, 1917, p. 47 at Google Books
  6. ^ Frank Luther Mott, "Trends in Newspaper Content", Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 219 (January 1942), pp. 60-65 at JSTOR
  7. ^ Philip F. Griffin, "The Correlation of English and Journalism" The English Journal 38:4 (April 1949), pp. 192 at JSTOR
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