5W teaches you to answer the question

The 5W technique trains you to think in a more logical manner. It teaches you to gather the facts that are needed in answering the question. Sometimes you’ll be asked to write a long response and at other times you’ll be limited to one or two paragraphs. Either way, 5W caters for both long and short responses.

Below is an example history question that demonstrates how 5W is used.

Question: What was the cause of World War II?

The first thing you would do is answer: who, what, when, where, why (5W). This forms your outline.

WHO: Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo and Benito Mussolini
WHAT: Were the main initiators in causing WWII
WHEN: From early to late 1930s up to the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939
WHERE: Europe, Balkans, China and the Pacific
WHY: Wanted world power and domination of the Third Reich; return of Roman Empire; growth of Asia for raw materials.


You would then write all of the above 5W points into two or three paragraphs, which would answer the initial question.

Answer (Essay summary):

The main cause of WWII was the desire and ability of Adolf Hitler, in control of Nazi Germany, to dominate the world.

Hitler was allied with Japan’s Prime Minister, Hideki Tojo, who had intensions of controlling the Republic of China for its vast raw materials, as well as Italy’s dictator Mussolini, who had ambitions of controlling the Balkans and re-establishing the Roman Empire.

Key events that led to the outbreak of war was the July 1937 invasion of China by Japan and the 1939 invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939.

Essay body

After answering the initial question, you would then go on to cover the following points in the body of your essay.


What is good writing?

It’s hard to explain what good writing is. It’s a combination of many things such as; the presentation of an idea; the argument of why something is good or bad; the organisation of your thoughts; the language, tone and words used and how it’s all packaged together in well structured sentences and paragraphs.

What does good writing look like?

You can’t begin to write well if you don’t know what good writing looks like. Essay writing is a bit like a jigsaw puzzle: you really do want to see the picture on the box before you start the long process of putting all the pieces together.

If you are in either year 11 or 12 you should aim to read an essay a day from writers whose work is of a high standard.

The National Times, which is part of Fairfax Media, has over 4,000 essays online. It is an large library of work by leading columnists and contributors from Australia and the world. They write about a wide range of topics from climate change, education, immigration, human rights, policing, mining, world affairs and politics.

When reading the essays, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to agree with the writer but do observe their style, how they open the essay, present the argument and close. Look at their choice of language, words and tone, and how they move effortlessly between paragraphs.

What also makes the National Times library ideal is that each essay is on average 1,000 words, which is a similar length to those of students.

Make the effort to read quality news

Not all news sites are the same. Aggregator such as Google and Yahoo randomly select news from various sources based on popularity. However, not all of those stories are well written or from reputable news sites. Reading a news story where the police are referred to as “cops” is a bit of a clue that you’re not at a quality news site.

It’s better that you choose the news site yourself and click on it directly. That way, you’re guaranteed to read quality writing. In the Newspapers tab is a list of some of the best newspapers in world.

Music, fashion, science and travel

The New York Times and The Guardian are two of the best newspapers in the world. Don’t be intimidated by them and think they only write about serious news because they don’t. The Music and Health sections in the New York Times are fantastic. And so too is the Style section.

The Guardian UK also has great sections. Their Science, Environment and Sport sections are particularly good.

All of the journalists who write in these sections are excellent writers. Remember: good newspapers don’t hire bad writers. Good newspapers hire only the best writers! So don’t be afraid to venture beyond the news to see what good writing looks like; you’ll find it in lots of different sections.