Thursday, March 27, 2014

Answering the right questions

There's a story here.
Reporters are taught to ask the "5 Ws": who, what, where, when, why. It would be tidier if "how" started with a "w," but we're stuck with it.

This series of questions, also used in police work and elsewhere, can be useful to someone writing about business and economics, even the sometimes abstract "thought leadership."

These questions serve several purposes. One, they are the basics of a story. Two, they anchor what we're trying to say in specifics.

Let me illustrate. I began my career in the New Orleans bureau of The Associated Press. It was our duty to report on home games of the Saints football team. We had a formula for starting these stories. Before I show it, let me suggest several ways to begin a story about a professional football game:
  • The first game of American football, which evolved from rugby football, was played in 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton, two schools in New Jersey.
  • As with other football teams, the New Orleans Saints sent 11 men on to the field to take on 11 men from another team and seek to score more points.
Huh? Now here is how we would write it:
  • NEW ORLEANS -- Archie Manning threw three touchdown passes, including a 57-yarder, to lead the New Orleans Saints to a 43-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in the Superdome.
That's a story. It's got a hero in it. He overcomes opposition and achieves his goal. We know who, what, where, when and how. The why is unspoken but understood.

Think about your writing. Can you take that clever, abstract, in the clouds idea and create a story using these questions? I guarantee your readers will appreciate the effort.

No comments:

Post a Comment