News reporters have a guideline to get the ‘who, what, when and where’ into the first paragraph of a news story, and this works well for company news announcements too. In both cases, it’s normally good practice to follow this up with the ‘how and why’. Anybody doing that won’t go far wrong.
Following this rigidly may not be the best approach for a more general article, blog post or white paper, but thinking about those ‘5 Ws (and an H)’ can be a useful technique for brainstorming content for them. One of the best things about these questions is that they can’t be answered with a yes or no, so they make us think. The 5Ws and an H are also helpful in project management, scoping out the methods, the possible outcomes and the justifications for the exercise. In fact, they’re helpful with almost anything.
The order in which we tackle them depends on the exercise being undertaken: consultant Simon Sinek’s Start With Why is a fairly self-explanatory recommendation if we’re asking more fundamental questions about our business. The most important thing however is that we ask the questions in the first place.
I like to have a list to throw at an exercise, even if some will not be applicable in every case. Here are some examples:
- Why this?
- Why now?
- Why is it important?
- What does it mean?
- What should I know?
- What will be affected?
- Who does it impact?
- Who’s in charge?
- Who will be affected?
- What’s in it for me?
- What’s in it for others?
- Where will be affected?
- Where can more information be found?
- When is it happening?
- When will the impacts be felt?
- How will decisions be made?
- How will they be implemented?
- How will people be impacted?
There are many more ideas online. Having our own list of ‘5Ws and an H’ questions to ask can often get us out of a ‘where do I start?’ moment.