The 5 Ws and 1H Technical Writing Approach

What is the 5Ws and 1H technical writing approach?Why should students engaged in research learn this writing approach? How is this writing approach different from other forms of writing? When should writers use this writing approach? What is an example? This article provides answers to these questions. 

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 personally 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 agency 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 or any topic of interest.

The head of the security guard agency quipped that in any event during crime investigation, like someone breaking into a house, or generally, a crime was committed to persons, the security guards are advised to provide answers to the 5 Ws and 1H. And I was not even able to do that when in fact during that time I have finished a better undergraduate degree in a prestigious school in the country than the security guards.

Before going into the details of the 5Ws and 1H technical writing approach that makes writing effective, let us first define what technical writing is in simple terms.

What is Technical Writing?

Technical writing is something that I do now. I am translating complex concepts or what we commonly call jargon into something that can be easily understood by the masses or the general public. Technical writing serves to bridge the gap between the highly specialized and puzzling jargon of highly specialized fields; say, how to apply a tip to recover from a computer problem.

To be more specific, here is an example:

A computer expert advised an ordinary computer user to clear the CMOS to recover from a blank screen display even when the computer is powered on. The neophyte computer user gets confused. How can a layman clear the CMOS of a computer?

Of course, this situation requires understanding first the computer basics. There is a need to explain what is a CMOS, where the computer user can see it, why and when it should be cleared, who should be able to clear it and how clearing the CMOS will enable the computer user to make use of this tip when his computer fails to boot up. The 5Ws and 1H associated with this troubleshooting tip should be answered.

I wrote about this computing tip in my article titled How to Clear the CMOS of Laptop or Desktop Computers.

The Technical Writing Approach: The 5 Ws and 1 H

Now, back to the technical writing approach that I find effective: the 5 Ws and 1H technical writing approach. As demonstrated in the computer troubleshooting tip, I again emphasize it here.

The 5Ws simply refers 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, the situation will be well understood enough to resolve a case.

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 the point is that 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 Patrick A. Regoniel

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