Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Four W’s of Writing

The Four W's of Writing
by Debbie Roome

If you examine any story in a newspaper, you will notice it is constructed around the four W’s of journalism:

· Who
· What
· Where
· When

In some cases, a how and why may be added for more depth. Depending on the type of publication, the four W’s may be condensed into one line or expanded over the first paragraph. Newspapers normally go for one-liners as shown in this example:

Police sources revealed today that a notorious drug dealer escaped from a high security prison over the weekend.

A gossip magazine may add in details to capture the reader’s interest:

A statement this morning from an unidentified leak in police force has confirmed bad news for the citizens of Christchurch. A notorious drug dealer has escaped his prison cell and is back on the streets of our city. The bust took place over the weekend and has left officials at the high security prison, shame-faced.


To be successful in the journalistic world, it is essential to master the skill of capturing the four W’s in one well constructed sentence. A good way to practice is to take four un-associated words and write them into one line. Here are some ideas to get you going - experiment with different combinations and see what you come up with.

Who: Dancer, school teacher, parrot, pharmaceutical company, family dog.
What: Broke a leg, collapsed, set a new record, was arrested, designed a chair.
Where: At the theatre, in a river, in mid-air, crossing the bridge, underneath her car.
When: This morning, last summer, overnight, on Tuesday, a week ago.


A well written story is constructed in the shape of a pyramid. The introduction or first line is the top and most important part. It captures the reader’s interest and leads them into the body of the article. The middle of the story is an expansion on the first line with the details revealed in an approximate order of importance. The ending contains information that is not vital to the story. If an editor shortens an article, it is normally the last few lines that get chopped.

Here is an example of how the above story may have continued.

Police sources revealed today that a notorious drug dealer escaped from a high security prison over the weekend. The name of the man is not known, but officials at Highgate Prison have confirmed he was serving a ten year sentence for manufacturing and dealing in drugs. The break out took place in the early hours of Sunday morning but no details are available as yet. It is suspected that he is still within the greater Christchurch area and is described as a Caucasian of medium build with a shaved head and a distinctive dolphin tattoo on his neck. Police have warned that he is dangerous and not to be approached under any circumstances. If sighted, please call the emergency line on 111. This is the second break out the prison has experienced this year with the first one taking place a scant three weeks ago. Prison officials have declined to comment on internal security measures.

If necessary, the last two lines could be removed without affecting the story in any way.

Using this formula makes it easier to write factual reports suitable for newspapers and magazines. Try examining articles that you see in the paper this week and see how closely they follow the rules. Cut off the content of the last few lines and see if the story still makes sense. Then sit down and write an article of your own.

Assignment for this week

Write a one line introduction to an interesting piece of news and submit it to us. All submissions will receive feedback.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Current projects include a contract for writing devotionals, contributions to the local paper, editing and production of a community newsletter and compilation of her church’s year book. Read some of her work at Suite 101 and Faithwriters.

1 comment:

robin_titan said...

Thank you so much for the tips I love writing but I am terrible at it and the few times I come up with something good it takes me forever!