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How the Rhino got his Skin, woodcut by Kipling

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.

In journalism, the Five Ws (also known as the Five Ws (and one H), or Six Ws) 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 for a report to be considered complete it must answer a checklist of six questions, each of which comprises an interrogative word:[2]

  • Who? Who was involved?
  • What? What happened (what’s the story)?
  • Where? Where did it take place?
  • When? When did it take place?
  • Why? Why did it happen?
  • How? How did it happen?

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”.

The context of the “news style” for newspaper reporting, the Five Ws are types of facts that should be contained in the “lead” (or lede), or first two or three paragraphs of the story, after which more expository writing is allowed.

References

  1. ^ “Knowing What’s What and What’s Not: The Five W’s (and 1 “H”) of Cyberspace”. Media Awareness Network. http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/special_initiatives/wa_resources/wa_shared/tipsheets/5Ws_of_cyberspace.cfm. Retrieved September 12, 2008. 
  2. ^ “The Five W’s of Online Help”. by Geoff Hart, TECHWR-L. http://www.geoff-hart.com/articles/2002/fivew.htm. Retrieved September 12, 2008. 
  3. ^ “Five More Ws for Good Journalism”. Copy Editing, InlandPress. http://inlandpress.org/articles/2001/01/19/best%20practices%20for%20newspapers/20010119-archive1.prt. Retrieved September 12, 2008. 
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