The 5Ws and 1H Technical Writing Approach

What should report writers consider in order to come up with a complete account of events? This article describes one of the popular technical writing approaches called the 5Ws and 1H. Read more to find out how it works.

While technical writing may be a challenge to many, there is a systematic way on how to go about it using the 5Ws and 1H approach. This technical writing approach helps you avoid missing the important details in your technical report.

Although I have not learned the 5Ws and 1H approach in technical writing while I was studying in the elementary, high school or college, I recalled that time the head of a security force approached me and said something that changed the way I write about particular events that need clarification.

I was guilty of not being able to clearly explain the case of burglary in the place where I worked. And he pointed out to me, without directly telling me, that my report is inadequate.

Here’s a brief description of that simple message and how I learned to write better about events using the 5Ws and 1H technical writing approach on any topic of interest.

The Event

Someone broke into the research facility laboratory where I once worked and robbed it out of valuable items. It was only in the morning that the burglary was discovered.

As the person tasked to take charge of that laboratory, the chief security officer asked me to prepare an incident report. I did so and gave it to the head of the security agency.

Upon reading the report, the chief security officer found my report inadequate. He explained why it was so by briefly pointing out how they in their security agency usually make a report on incidents like this.

The head of the security force quipped that during a crime investigation, like someone breaking into a house, or a crime was committed to persons, the security guards under his command were advised to provide answers using the 5Ws and 1H reporting mode.

I evaluated my report and used the recommended reporting scheme. I realized that indeed my report does not provide the required information useful in assessing the situation.

Since then, I have become more conscious of the basic questions to ask when encountering cases like this. I got to know the 5Ws and 1H of technical writing.

So how does it work? I describe the reporting approach fully in the next section.

The Technical Writing Approach: The 5 Ws and 1 H

The 5Ws simply refer to the What, When, Where, Who, and Why of an incident and the 1H is the How of that event. If the answers to these questions are arrived at, someone will well understand enough of the situation to resolve a case.

Fig. 1. An illustrative 5Ws and 1H example.

Figure 1 shows an example of the 5Ws and 1 H reporting or writing based on the example narrated in the previous section.

Efforts must then be made to exhaust all the possible What questions that can be asked, ascertain the When, exactly find out the location to answer the Where, determine Who did the crime or Who was the victim, Why did it happen or Why was the victim victimized, and How was it done.

Using these basic questions as a guide, a technical writer can therefore effectively provide the required information to the reader as all facets of inquiry are covered. There may be some items that may be missed, but at the very least, the basic questions are asked and accurate answers are provided at least as starting points for more rigorous discussion or topic exploration.

Now, practice this technical writing approach and you, as well as your peers, will right away notice that your technical writing skills will be better than before. This is a very useful tool you can use in writing your research paper.

© 2012 November 25 P. A. Regoniel, updated 2022 October 30 2022