Set Your Writing Objectives

When you have clear writing objectives, you’ll never leave your readers guessing about your message.

The 5 Ws (and an H) of Journalism

There are five questions a journalist normally needs to answer in the lead of a standard newspaper article: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

This “formula” has been attributed to Thomas Wilson, an English rhetoric expert, in his The Arte of Rhetorique (1560).


Before you even begin to write, answer each of the following questions, on paper, about the work you’re authoring. The more detail you can provide, the better will be your results.

Who—target audience: Who will read this work? What do you know about them? Who will be affected by your message?

What—message, takeaway, call to action: This is one of the two most important of these questions. When a reader has finished your work, what do you want that person to think, believe, remember, or do? In other words, what’s the core message? Should the reader have learned something, developed a plan of action, or actually taken action?

When & Where—logistics: These are the details of your work. It might be a to-do list (or several), it might be setting a date, time and place for something to happen, or other like specifics.

Why—purpose and benefits—This is the other most important of these questions. Why do your readers need or want this information? What’s in it for them? Remember radio station WIIFM (What’s In It For Me). Why should they care about your message?

How—style and tone: This is the more emotional part of your message. Is it presented formally or informally? Are you addressing your readers (talking AT them) or talking to or with them? Do you sound excited or calm, urgent or laid back? Get the idea?


If you do a thorough job of this exercise, you’ll find that it’s like preparing a detailed outline for your work. It’s now “simply” a matter of putting words on the framework. You’ll be able to construct your work more quickly and completely because you’ve already set down some of the critical points that you’ll need in your text.

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