The Five W´s (sometimes referred to as
Five Ws and How, 5W1H, or Six
Ws) are questions whose answers are considered basic in information
gathering or problem solving. They are often mentioned in journalism
(cf. news style), research, and police investigations. They
constitute a formula for getting the complete story on a subject.
According to the principle of the Five Ws, a report can only be
considered complete if it answers these questions starting with an
Who was involved?
When did it take place?
Where did it take place?
Why did that happen?
Some authors add a sixth question, “how”, to the list:
How did it happen?
Each question should have a factual answer — facts necessary to
include for a report to be considered complete. Importantly, none
of these questions can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no".
In the United Kingdom (excluding Scotland), the
Five Ws are used in
Key Stage 2 and
Key Stage 3 lessons.
3 See also
A standard series of questions has been a way of formulating or
analyzing rhetorical questions since classical antiquity.
The rhetor Hermagoras of Temnos, as quoted in pseudo-Augustine's De
Rhetorica, defined seven "circumstances" (μόρια
περιστάσεως 'elements of circumstance') as the loci of
Quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quem ad modum, quibus
(Who, what, when, where, why, in what way, by what means)
Cicero had a similar concept of circumstances. Although Thomas Aquinas
attributes the questions to Cicero, they do not appear in his
Quintilian discussed loci argumentorum, but did
not put them in the form of questions.
Victorinus explained Cicero's system of circumstances by putting them
into correspondence with Hermagoras's questions:
Julius Victor also lists circumstances as questions.
Boethius "made the seven circumstances fundamental to the arts of
prosecution and defense":
Quis, quid, cur, quomodo, ubi, quando, quibus auxiliis.
(Who, what, why, how, where, when, with what)
The question form was taken up again in the 12th century by Thierry de
Chartres and John of Salisbury.
To administer suitable penance to sinners, the 21st canon of the
Fourth Lateran Council
Fourth Lateran Council (1215) enjoined confessors to investigate both
sins and the circumstances of the sins. The question form was popular
for guiding confessors, and it appeared in several different
Quis, quid, ubi, per quos, quoties, cur, quomodo, quando.
Quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando.
Quis, quid, ubi, cum quo, quotiens, cur, quomodo, quando.
Quid, quis, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando.
Quid, ubi, quare, quantum, conditio, quomodo, quando: adiuncto
The method of questions was also used for the systematic exegesis of a
In the 16th century, Thomas Wilson wrote in English verse:
Who, what, and where, by what helpe, and by whose:
Why, how, and when, doe many things disclose.
United States in the 19th century, Prof. William Cleaver
Wilkinson popularized the "Three Ws" – What? Why? What of it? – as
a method of Bible study in the 1880s, although he did not claim
originality. This would also became the "Five Ws", but the application
was rather different from that in journalism:
"What? Why? What of it?" is a plan of study of alliterative methods
for the teacher emphasized by Professor W.C. Wilkinson not as original
with himself but as of venerable authority. "It is, in fact," he says,
"an almost immemorial orator's analysis. First the facts, next the
proof of the facts, then the consequences of the facts. This analysis
has often been expanded into one known as "The Five Ws:" "When? Where?
Who? What? Why?" Hereby attention is called, in the study of any
lesson: to the date of its incidents; to their place or locality; to
the person speaking or spoken to, or to the persons introduced, in the
narrative; to the incidents or statements of the text; and, finally,
to the applications and uses of the lesson teachings.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
The Elephant's Child
The "Five Ws" (and one H) were memorialized by
Rudyard Kipling in his
"Just So Stories" (1902), in which a poem accompanying the tale of
"The Elephant's Child" opens with:
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.
By 1917, the "Five Ws" were being taught in high-school journalism
classes, and by 1940, the tendency of journalists to address all
of the "Five Ws" within the lead paragraph of an article was being
characterized as old-fashioned and fallacious:
The old-fashioned lead of the five Ws and the H, crystallized largely
by Pulitzer's "new journalism" and sanctified by the schools, is
widely giving way to the much more supple and interesting feature
lead, even on straight news stories.
All of you know about — and I hope all of you admit the fallacy of
— the doctrine of the five Ws in the first sentence of the newspaper
Starting in the 2000s, the Five W's were sometimes misattributed to
Kipling, especially in the management and quality literature,
and contrasted with the 5 Whys.
See also: Indo-European vocabulary § Pronouns, particles
In each of English and Latin, most of the interrogative words begin
with the same sound, wh in English, "qu" in Latin. This is not a
coincidence, as they both come from the Proto-Indo-European root kwo-,
Proto-Germanic as χwa- or khwa- and in Latin as qu-.
5 Whys (problem solving)
Means, motive, and opportunity
Lasswell's model of communication
^ a b c "The
Five Ws of Online Help". by Geoff Hart, TECHWR-L.
Retrieved April 30, 2012.
^ "Deconstructing Web Pages of Cyberspace" (PDF). MediaSmarts.
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^ Spencer-Thomas, Owen. "Press release: getting the facts straight".
owenspencer-thomas.com (Press release). Retrieved 24 February
^ "Five More Ws for Good Journalism". Copy Editing, InlandPress.
Retrieved September 12, 2008.
Five Ws of Drama". Times Educational Supplement. 4 Sep 2008.
Retrieved 10 Mar 2011.
^ For more general discussion of the theory of circumstances, see e.g.
Rita Copeland, Rhetoric, Hermeneutics, and Translation in the Middle
Ages: Academic Traditions and Vernacular Texts, 1995.
ISBN 0-521-48365-4, p. 66ff, as well as Robertson
^ Although attributed to Augustine of Hippo, modern scholarship
considers the authorship doubtful, and calls him pseudo-Augustine:
Edwin Carawan, "What the Laws have Prejudged: Παραγραφή and
Early Issue Theory" in Cecil W. Wooten, George Alexander Kennedy,
eds., The orator in action and theory in Greece and Rome, 2001.
ISBN 90-04-12213-3, p. 36.
^ Vollgraff, W. (1948). "Observations sur le sixieme discours
d'Antiphon". Mnemosyne. 4th ser. 1 (4): 257–270.
^ a b c d e f Robertson, D.W., Jr (1946). "A Note on the Classical
Origin of "Circumstances" in the Medieval Confessional". Studies in
Philology. 43 (1): 6–14. JSTOR 4172741.
^ Robertson, quoting Halm's edition of De rhetorica; Hermagoras's
original does not survive
^ Citations below taken from Robertson and not independently checked.
^ Mansi, Concilium Trevirense Provinciale (1227), Mansi, Concilia,
XXIII, c. 29.
^ Constitutions of
Alexander de Stavenby (1237) Wilkins, I:645; also
Summa Theologica I-II, 7, 3.
^ Robert de Sorbon, De Confessione, MBP XXV:354
^ Peter Quinel, Summula, Wilkins, II:165
^ S. Petrus Coelestinus, Opuscula, MBP XXV:828
^ Richard N. Soulen, R. Kendall Soulen, Handbook of Biblical
Criticism, (Louisville, 2001, ISBN 0-664-22314-1) s.v. Locus, p.
107; Hartmut Schröder, Subject-Oriented Texts, p. 176ff
^ Thomas Wilson, The Arte of Rhetorique Book I.
^ Henry Clay Trumbull, Teaching and Teachers, Philadelphia, 1888, p.
120 text at Google Books
^ Leon Nelson Flint,
Newspaper Writing in High Schools, Containing an
Outline for the Use of Teachers, University of Kansas, 1917, p. 47 at
^ Mott, Frank Luther (1942). "Trends in
Newspaper Content". Annals of
the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 219: 60–65.
doi:10.1177/000271624221900110. JSTOR 1023893. Retrieved
^ Griffin, Philip F. (1949). "The Correlation of English and
Journalism". The English Journal. 38 (4): 189–194.
doi:10.2307/806690. JSTOR 806690. Retrieved 2014-03-19.
^ Simon Burtonshaw-Gunn, The Essential Management Toolbox, 2009,
ISBN 0470687436, pp. 55, 68, 198
^ e.g. in E. Kim and S. Helal, "Revisiting Human Activity Networks",
in Sensor Systems and Software: Second International ICST Conference,
Miami 2010, p. 223
^ Richard Smith, et al., The Effective Change Manager's Hand