February 24, 2007

Strong Leads: 6 Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How)

On the topic of organization and strong leads, Adam offers us some wisdom based on work in journalism:

I've taught several writers how to write leads for newspapers and have used the lesson below to show beginning writers how to shape leads to write in inverted pyramid style.

The 6 Ws are used with a different lead emphasis depending on what the writer feels is the most important aspect of a story.

By focusing on the 6 Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How) students will have something quick to grasp if they're stuck. After they've defined what the 6 Ws are they can determine which is the most important or dramatic.

How is the most difficult W of them all – that's why it's W comes at the end instead of the front -- to write because it's hard to get someone to explain the real reasoning behind things.

WHO #1 – Baskin Robins owners will increase the cost of a single scoop ice crime by nearly double Wednesday across the city because of rising milk costs.

WHO #1 – Consumers have until Tuesday before they begin paying nearly double the amount for a single scoop ice cream before a plan kicks in by Baskin Robins to avert a crisis forced by the rising cost of milk.

NOTE: By showing two examples you can also show that there's not necesarily a single answer or approach to a lead emphasis within newswriting.

WHAT – Ice cream will cost almost twice as much across the city beginning Wednesday as Baskin Robins owners will nearly double their prices because of rising milk costs.

WHERE #1– Across the city, ice cream will cost nearly twice as much Wednesday at Baskin Robins 31 Flavor stores as owners cite the rising cost of milk as their reason.

WHERE #2– At Baskin Robins 31 Flavor stores , ice cream will cost nearly twice as much Wednesday as owners cite the rising cost of milk as their reason to hike prices across the city.

WHEN – Tuesday will be the last day single scoop ice cream at Baskin Robins 31 Flavors stores will be sold at its current price as owners plan to implement a price hike across town they say is due to the rising costs of milk.

NOTE: Look for subtle differences -- here it's Tuesday instead of Wednesday -- that will set your writing slightly apart from others and make it unique.

WHY– The rising cost of milk will cause the cost of a single scoop of ice cream to nearly double Wednesday across the city Baskin Robins officials announced today.

HOW – By doubling the cost of single scoop ice cream beginning Wednesday Baskin Robins officials say they'll be able to remain open across the city and avert an ice cream crisis in the wake of rising milk costs.

After explaining the differences in lead emphasis, rip a newspaper apart and ask students to work in small groups with a couple of pages of the newspaper (Sunday edition works best) and decide what the lead emphasis of new stories on pages handed to them are.

This exercise helps "reveal how the sausage is made" and shows them how writing in everyday life can apply to them. They quickly discover that most news stories begin with what or who.

After this, I have the group rewrite a lead using a different lead emphasis. If they pick a Who emphasis lead, then they have to write a lead with an emphasis besides who.

Because all of the facts and materials are provided, nobody can honestly say they couldn't come up with something. This also builds their ability and confidence in editing others work.

For example, "You're lead emphasized who -- Baskin Robins officials -- when the most important news is really the what -- Ice cream costs will double. What has the most effect on people? Maybe that's what you should lead with.

Teaching the six Ws is applicable in a variety of things, police work, emergency services, lawyers, journalist, report to share holders because like the 6 traits for writers the 6 Ws are the basic elements needed in writing.

No comments: