Do you struggle to write the first few lines, unsure of how to put the hours of research and reams of information into a format that is easy to understand and logical for your readers? Let the hallmark of journalistic writing guide your hand!
As a journalism student, the first thing I learned was to write using the basic questions all investigative reporters are taught to ask their subjects. They are:
Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?
I have used these basic questions to structure everything from simple memos to 200+ page proposals. And now, I want to share this process to help all writers.
The Writing Process
Start by writing out the six basic questions above, then, use the information below to answer each question precisely.
- Who – It’s really a two-part question. First, who are you writing to? Fix clearly in your mind who you are writing to and what are they interested in. What do they already know about your subject and what will be new information? Next, who or what are you writing about? Why is it interesting to the reader? Answering these two questions gives you perspective into what you need to tell your reader about the subject.
- What – As in, what is important to your reader? Is there a specific benefit or feature they are looking for in your piece? Make your topic easy to pick out in your piece.
- Where –What is the location or situation? This could be an actual location or it might be a more generalized place – the workplace, the home, etc.
- When – When is this relevant to your readers – is this a present need, a future perspective, or a past reflection?
- Why – Why is your topic important to your reader? What about the topic makes them want to read your piece? Figure this key information out and the rest of the writing becomes simple.
- How – What will your reader do with the information you have provided? Give them specific steps to take to accomplish your objectives for the writing piece. Never assume the reader understands their next step – give him or her an outline for action.
Once you’ve answered the questions, then it is time to create that first paragraph, packing in all six questions to begin your reader’s journey. Tell your reader enough to get them interested in the subject, and then in the next paragraphs, explain each of your answers in detail – who or what are your talking about and what information are your providing. Why is it important and in what context are you speaking? And, don’t forget to include the all important how – the steps you want the reader to take as a result of reading the piece. Sometimes, it is just enough they are aware of the situation, in others, you may have a specific action in mind. Whatever your next step, be sure to spell it out clearly, don’t leave it to chance.
Once you’ve mastered the key questions, you’ll find it is much easier to organize your thoughts and create a piece that is easy to understand and gives the reader a clear path to action.
What helps you organize the writing process? Share your personal process in the comments below. All writers are different and each of us has their own process, I would love to hear more about yours.