A new year has begun, and what better time to get back to the basics of our work…so here goes.

After the rather cryptic title, it is necessary to clarify that the connection referred to is between the author (originator) with the audience (reader, listener).

Whether its marketing copy, website content, advertisements, or technical updates it is always important for a person framing the communication to be able to connect with the reader.

Which brings us back to the basics of being able to provide a frame of reference for every bit of communication that aims to inform, instruct or entertain a reader.

Everyone, especially technical communicators need to keep the Five Ws and One H principle in mind when
writing so that our readers are not grappling with an internal – “What on earth is going on?” question.

Who, What, Why, When, and Where are the elements that provide the background of a situation whether it’s a news item or the introduction to how a product feature works. From the point of view of classifying information, all the details you provide that answer these questions can be categorized as conceptual information.

The H or how provides details on how an action is to be done or a task undertaken. Details that fall under the “how” category can be termed procedural information.
When you think of it, even a simple communication like a wedding invitation would contain this information.

Who: Who is getting married—names of the bride and groom.

When: Date and time of the event.

What: Lines that state that you are invited to attend the ceremony and reception.

Why: Not explicitly mentioned, but obviously because the bride and groom thought it a good idea.

Where: Venue of the wedding and reception.

How: Directions to the venue.

The next time you are writing something or making a presentation, pause and consider whether your communication contains all the salient information for your audience to understand the topic and act upon it in the way you want them to.

Author: Susan Alexander