It’s a very old journalistic cliché that stories should always contain answers to these six questions: What? Who? Where? When? How? Why? For example, a story about a murder could accomplish all of this in a single sentence: “Jones was murdered in his own home last evening by a neighbor using a shotgun in revenge for Jones’ insults to the neighbor’s wife.”
It seems to me that more and more articles on the web are leaving aside this pattern to move to the “x simple tips on how to do y” format. There’s nothing wrong with such an approach — indeed, it’s clearly popular — but it implies that you already know the answers to the other five questions. Only the “how?” item remains, since that is all such articles address.
In my own experience, this is rarely the case. Most often, people do not know the answers to the other questions. They are either ignored or blithely assumed to be obvious.
Questions for a New Year
With a New Year upon us, you may be thinking about resolutions. Will it be enough to address only the “how?” issues? I think that one of the reasons why so many resolutions fail to last beyond January is that they assume you have indeed answered all the other questions, when the reality is that none of them have been tackled.
My suggestion is this: that you make sure you ask yourself all
As journalists have found for hundreds of years, all six questions are essential. Missing any of them leaves a gap that must be filled by assumptions or imagination. Just so, relying entirely on “x simple tips on how to do y” is likely to leave you guessing on such key questions as whether it’s worth doing anyway, or worth doing right now.
Best of all, the six questions can be adapted easily to cover almost any situation. Considering a change of job or career? Try this sequence:
If you think through the sequence carefully, you’ll not only make a better career moves, you will have already prepared the answers to maybe 90% of interview questions.
Don’t be seduced by attractive sound-bites or simple-sounding, ready-made answers, when what you need are time to consider your situation fully and thoughtful questions to help you do so.
Don’t jump to trying the “x simple ways” before you have spent sufficient time on deciding what you need to accomplish and why it matters.
There will be opportunity enough to work on the (purely tactical) “how?” after you have first dealt with the (strategic) issues the other five questions will raise for you. Time spent in reconnaissance, as the saying goes, is never wasted — especially if you want to come out on the winning side.
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