W's

Feature writing is a subset of writing that is meant to be more timeless, and, in general, more entertaining. Nonetheless, among the qualities all the articles share are answers to the 5 W’s.

Master raconteur Rudyard Kipling said:

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.

Answer these questions and you’ll have the basis of an article.

In constructing your article, particularly a feature article based on a news story, the writer must answer all those questions, but not necessarily one at a time or all at once. The “what” question is important. To open your article, you may answer the question, “What’s new?”

Answering the what question

Here’s an opening from Christianity Today magazine about a public school district in Central Pennsylvania that stopped Bible reading and prayer in late 1993.

For nearly 40 years, students in Pennsylvania’s Warrior Run School District began classes with Bible reading over the intercom system. In December, the practice stopped.

Although it took two sentences to do it, this beginning, called the lead, tells us that a Bible reading practice-the what-stopped in December-the when. The Question could be, “What’s happening with the Bible reading?” The lead answers that question.

Another useful question is to ask, “Who did what?” In this case, the writer can plug in the correct answers.

For the Bible reading story, the lead could have been:

A Pennsylvania community school board official stopped Bible reading in his public school in late 1993 to avoid a lawsuit.

In this lead, part of the “why” question is answered. Why did the school board stop the Bible reading? The school board feared a lawsuit would ensue if it didn’t stop the practice.

In later chapters, this book will focus on developing the news story, the use of quotations and other techniques of mass media writing.

Tip:

When a media writer talks to a source, the first question that he or she should ask is the person’s name. If the person won’t give you her name, any other information is nearly useless.

After you ask for the person’s name, write it down and show what you’ve written to your source. Ask, “Is this correct?” The person will spy any misspelling. People who use this technique will never have a source accuse her of shoddy work, but be advised. Even veteran reporters can get careless.

This is an excerpt from Dr. Michael Ray Smith‘s book FeatureWriting.net. Used with permission.

Download the entire book for free from our MTI Online resource center.

Photo by Dimitry B on Unsplash

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