5W (who, what, when, where, why) is an information gathering technique whereby the most important information forms the framework of the essay or story. This information should always be strong enough to stand alone; read in isolation and understood.
The example below demonstrates the 5W technique. The original story contained 405 words. The 5W extract shown below contains just 36 words and represents only 8% of the original story, and yet it can be read in isolation and understood—that’s the magic of 5W, it’s an ingenious technique that works every time.
|HEADLINE:||CANNES JEWEL HEIST|
|WHO:||A thief in the French Riviera|
|WHAT:||Has pulled off a daring daylight jewellery heist at a diamond exhibition and escaped|
|WHEN:||Sunday 28 July, 2013|
|WHERE:||The Carlton Hotel, Cannes|
|WHY:||Jewels estimated to be worth about $57 million|
|ABC/AFP||Europe correspondent Barbara Miller||Original story word count: 405||5W word count: 36 (8%)|
5W collects the facts
5W takes the form of an inverted pyramid with the most important information at the top (beginning of the story), and least important information at the bottom (end of the story).
5W is a summary of all the key facts and important information and is usually found in the first two or three paragraphs. Even if you only read the first half of the story, you will still get the key points.
5W can be used in both long and shot responses
5W benefits students enormously because it caters for both long and short responses/answers. During exams you will be required to give a combination of the two, e.g. several short five line responses in addition to a lengthy essay.
5W is a life skill you’ll use at work
5W is a life skill you’ll use at school and when you enter the workforce. On a scale of one to 10 of importance, it ranks as a 10.
At school 5W is used to help you establish the facts so you can answer the question. When you enter the workforce it is used to write a “one pager,” which is a summary of an incident, subject or project.
A one pager is easy to write if you know the 5W technique, however if you’re not familiar with it then you will struggle to detail all the necessary information in the required format. And don’t be misled into believing that Word can do the work for you, because it can’t.
No professional organisation will take you seriously if your writing skills look as if they belong on a Facebook page. How you speak is not how you write. If your intention is to work in an office or climb the corporate ladder, then you will be expected to have reasonable writing skills. So take the time to learn 5W, because it really is a skill you’ll use for the rest of your life.
There are some news apps that select the story and in some cases condense it for you, which is great if you’re in a rush and don’t have time to scan the news. But the downside to this is that they are doing the thinking for you; they’re deciding what you see and don’t see.
A news app is an algorithms designed to extract the who, what, when, where, why components from a news story. It sounds pretty impressive but the reality is it’s a simple technique that you can learn yourself.
If you’re reading the news then there’s a reason for that. You’re scanning a cross section of information and targeting what’s relevant only to you. No matter how good a news app is it’s never going to know you better than you know yourself. The news changes by the minute, the hour and the day, which is why an app can’t be relied upon to keep you fully informed. They’re good, but they’re not as good a your own brain. And smart people know that the facts of any news story are usually found within the first two paragraphs. Another thing newspapers can teach you.
It’s worth your time getting a yellow highlighter to see just where 5W is positioned in a news story. Financial papers in particular are the queen bees of the 5W technique. They are up-front, short, sharp and to the point.
Who created 5W?
Newspapers have used the 5W technique for over 100 years. And like most good things it came about by accident. Long before email was invented people communicated by telegraph wire, which was an unreliable service that would frequently cut out. Operators, anticipating a break in transmission, began sending the most important information first, i.e. who, what, when, where, why. It was such an effective technique that journalists adopted it and still use it today.
Essay5W is a free online resource for high school students who want to improve their essay writing skills. This site utilises the news as both a digital teaching tool and classroom aid.
The Internet now provides students with a platform from which they can learn first hand from professional writers such as journalists. A journalist’s writing style isn’t by chance—it’s a very prescriptive method and one they’ve spent years perfecting. Essay5W focuses on the Top 3 Tips journalist use when writing a story, and how these same three tips can benefit students.
Essay5W is an independent site and not associated with any individual media organisation or group. Our primary purpose is to provide extra tuition for students who are either geographically isolated or of limited financial means and can’t afford tutoring.
The site also serves to highlight the importance of free speech and quality journalism, and to educate students that not all news sites are the same.
How 5W can help students
5W stands for who, what, when, where, why. These are the five key components used in news stories, which also happen to be the same five components needed for essays. If you’ve ever been told, “you haven’t answered the question,” then the chances are you missed one of the 5Ws.
Until recently, newspapers were one dimensional. Consigned to primary school and the fun activities lesson, the news was never considered a serious teaching tool. The Internet has now changed that.
News organisations are the only producers of 5W. What was once a discarded by-product of news is now a highly sought after commodity by those in the education field. Stripped back most news stories reveal a 5W framework, which is an indispensible aid in teaching essay writing. Laid bare, 5W exposes the building blocks for good writing.
As a digital application news stories provide students with a fast and effective drill that teaches essay outline. Currently, the only method available for practising5Wis to write an essay out in full, which is impractical and unachievable on a daily basis.
In the last 40 years the school curriculum has doubled but school hours have remained unchanged. Everyone is under pressure to perform, particularly teachers who are expected to do more and more with less and less. For them, 5W is an indispensible resource. It teaches students to “answer the question,” while allowing teachers to focus on other aspects of essay writing such as: style, structure, vocabulary, and conclusion.
Students and journalists have a lot in common
Students and journalists have a lot more in common than you think.
- Journalist must provide the key facts or 5W components to a story. Students are also asked to do the same when writing an essay.
- Journalists often write to a deadline and are under pressure to get the story out quickly. Likewise, students are also under pressure to write essays or short answers within a set timeframe and often under exam conditions.
- Journalists don’t waste words. The more words they use the less room there is to sell advertising, which is why they use several space saving techniques for keeping their word count down (Tip 3). Similarly, students are also asked to write to a set number of words, e.g. 500, 1000, 1200, 1500 etc.
The Top 3 Tips used by journalists
Good newspapers don’t hire bad writers. In fact, good newspapers hire only the best writers. So why not learn from them?
- Journalists use the: who, what, when, where, why (5W) technique. This technique guarantees to give the reader all the facts in the shortest possible space. It’s a guaranteed method for gathering all the details and answering the question.
- Journalists place the most important noun at the beginning of the sentence (SVO). This clarifies up-front who or what the subject is and doesn’t leave the reader guessing.
- Journalists prefer to write in active voice because it’s more direct and uses fewer words than passive voice.
Before you begin
Download the 5W template located in the 5W Links & Results tab. Read one or more of the online news stories and then write what you think are the 5W components for each story.
Essay5W will publish the results the following day between 8 and 9 am Australian Eastern Standard Time. And yes, we’re holding them back 24 hours so you won’t be tempted to look at the answers while you’re doing the exercises.
The 5W links and results will be posted each weekday.
Note to teachers
Some of the imagery used in Essay5W could be considered elementary, in particular the bee and egg used in Active Voice. The reasoning behind such usage is twofold: (a) approximately 65% of the population are visual learners, and (b) grammar is both an exceptionally boring and challenging subject to teach at the best of times. Therefore, we take the view that a simplistic and visual approach is best when teaching to such a broad group between the ages of 12 to 18 years.
Also, this website takes a lot from journalism and newspapers. If you intend to use Essay5W as a class resource, we ask that in return you devote a small amount of time discussing the importance of investigative journalism and its role in society.
To promote class discussion free posters are available in the Posters tab. Additional information can also be found in the News versus Social Media tab.