The Five Basic Questions in Detail

What to answer, and why it’s important

What, Who, When, Where, and Why—these questions form the basis of every complete newspaper article. None of these questions can be answered with a 'Yes' or 'No'; they must be answered fully to be useful. Throughout the centuries, rhetoric masters and journalists have used these simple questions to define the core of their content. If news companies and police departments consider a report of any event incomplete when it fails to answer any of these questions, we should ensure all of our informative publications meets and exceeds this simple requirement for our events and ministries.

I’m just a college student who has seen a problem with my church’s website and came up with a plan to fix it. I’m not an authority on any of these subjects, although I'm proficient at writing. Like any other system you adopt, you will probably find some things that don't work or make sense. Just come up with a work-around and keep going. If you have questions or just want to contact me, you can reach me at Kevin.Gibby@gmail.com.

The FBQ is an internal campaign to make ebcfamily.org a more informative website. The campaign's basic questions are answered over here.

The Five Basic Questions

  • What
  • Who
  • When
  • Where
  • Why

Why are these questions important?

They answer the five questions essential to an event. They are important to readers because they need to know these answers to go to the event; they are important to event hosts because they need to let their readers know these details to let them come to their event. In general, these questions complete and define your core content in any informative setting like a news article or an advertisement for an event.

They are used any time you want to inform your readers about something. You might use a subset of the five when persuading, inspiring, or otherwise not trying to inform, but they are prevalent throughout many styles of writing and speaking.

Dissecting The Questions

What

Ever heard a new word and had no clue as to what it meant? You would probably ask, "What does that word mean?" Now imagine all the answers to your question were related to how to use the word properly, when to use the word most effectively, and why you would want to use the sesquipedalian word. While these answers might look cool and very informative if you knew what the word meant, you still don't know what the word means! That feeling is evoked when an event page doesn't answer What activities will take place at the event.

You should answer this question even if you think everybody knows will always know the answer. Take for example 'Sunday Morning Service'. Most people know what that phrase means, but there are some who have never gone to church or even know what 'church' means; furthermore, your idea of a church service may be radically different from someone else. Answering What will happen on Sunday morning will go a long way to ensuring you don’t confuse anybody over word meanings you take for granted.

What is so essential you should answer it very quickly. See the Order of Questions section below.

Who

This is actually two questions: "Who is this activity for?" and "Who do I contact?" Both are important and need to be answered.

"Who is this activity for?" Answers include: age group, people group, male or female, or occupation. It says who is invited or who might be most interested. Many times this question is already answered in the What section—those who are interested in What is happening at the event will keep reading.

"Who do I contact?" Sometimes someone will have a question the five basic questions can't answer, or have circumstances requiring the attention of the event host. Parents will especially appreciate a contact number when their kids are involved. Hey, maybe they will call you to say they want to help at the event. In any case, contact info is necessary and will actually help you.

When

People will have a hard time showing up if they don’t know When to show up! Give both the start and end times—your event isn't the only thing in the world and people have other things to do. Even if you simply say, "My event starts at 5pm and goes until everybody leaves."—this is better than leaving the end time ambiguous. Indicating an ending also lets everybody know when you want people to leave so you can go home and get some sleep!

Where 

Give an address! It's difficult for your readers to show up at "Bob's house" if they don't know his address, and doubly hard if they are new to your group and don't know anybody. While step-by-step directions are a nice gesture, we live in a world full of GPS-capable devices and turn-by-turn directions from Google Maps, so give an address that’s easily copied into a mapping program.

Be specific! Saying the event will be held at "Eastside Baptist Church" doesn't take into account the fact we have two very large buildings each with multiple levels and dozens of rooms. You just might have people scattered across campus thinking how stupid you were for not telling them which building and which room. If you don't know which room you'll be in, set up a meeting area and place a sign or some other marker to denote Where your group should go.

Why

This is the most complex question, but it is often already answered for you, either by implication or by previous mention in your other answers. For instance, it's doubtful you need to answer why you are eating at Joe's BBQ—everybody needs to eat—but an event where the youth group cleans the church for free may have people asking why we would want or need to do that when we already have a paid cleaning crew. Sometimes this answer was answered when you provided other information, e.g. "We are going to Ms. Smith's to help her with her yard since she’s sick."(Answering Why in a What statement.)

Additional Questions

How

Sometimes your page isn't a single event, but more of an open-ended goal. Your page might be describing the overall mission of your ministry, or group. You still need to answer the FBQs, but it sometimes makes sense to give a bit more detail how you are going to do something, especially if you are doing something in an unconventional or novel way. In these cases, you might need a How section, but you would do well to consider separate, specific events with a clearly defined task and goal if your How section gets lengthy. The How question asks, "How are we going to do this activity?"

Be careful about using this question when you can adequately describe how you will do something in your What section. For example, your Yard Workers for Christ ministry probably doesn't need a How section when the What section says (or could say),

"Yard Workers for Christ reaches out to our community by helping the elderly and sick by assisting them with their yard work. We help mow lawns, keep gardens from being overrun by weeds, and do other yard work that can be difficult for our seniors and those afflicted with illness."

However, How sections can be great for when you want to give a bit more instruction to your volunteers, particularly when the goal is complex or has many parts. Again, be mindful several specific events could benefit large projects. For example, I used a How section this very project, Five Basic Questions. In it, I gave more information on how the staff at Eastside will be involved in completing the goal by asking them to write a page for each of their projects they are in charge of and submit the write-ups to a website. The goal of the FBQ was already complex enough to merit its own section, so I put how to contribute in a separate section.

Bring

"Do I need to Bring anything to this event?" Does your event cost to get in? If yes, your patrons should Bring money, and you need to tell them! Do they need to Bring anything special to participate fully? If so, let them know ahead of time. You could even point them to a place where they can get those items if you want.

Order of Questions

When the amount of information starts getting longer than a few sentences, the order of the questions can become important. Someone who has only heard the event name won’t care about many of the questions until he knows What he will be doing at the event. Once he knows there will be something interesting happening at your event, he will easily digest the other information because he now wants to know the other information. With What at the top of the page, maybe after a short introductory passage, you immediately interest those who want to come to your event—after all, they want to come to interesting events!

After you tell your reader What is going to happen at your event, you should answer the two filtering questions: Who and When. These questions determine if reader is able to go to the event. If the event is a Girls' Night Out, neither the girls going to the party nor the guys looking at the event page really want guys to come. Telling your reader it’s a Girls Only Zone tells all the guys to stop wasting their time reading any more about this event—saving them time, and reducing any potential letdowns if they had thought they might want to go to the event, especially if the event is named in an odd manner.

When is also a filtering question, it tells those who have prior commitments they will need to reschedule or miss your event. In either case, tackling the When question quickly will hopefully prevent your reader from getting excited about your event, only to find at the end of your page he can’t go because he has a schedule conflict.

This is by no means a hard rule since the importance of ordering goes up with the length of your text. If your event information is 1-2 sentences, it will likely make more sense to write naturally instead of adhering to any kind of strict rules—as long as you answer the FBQ! When you start breaking your text into paragraphs, you should think about ordering the Five Questions. Of course, if your text is measured by how many pages you have, you might want to consider a quick summary near the top.

For the other questions, Where, Why, How, and Bring, it doesn't matter too much on the order since if your reader is still interested after the answers to the filtering questions, they will easily absorb the answers to these last questions.

Make things Obvious

Respecting your readers' time by making essential event information easily found will go a long way to making them want to come. If you, for instance, bury When to come inside the fifth paragraph of elegant prose, they likely will get frustrated, give up trying to find information about the event, never go to your event, and be less likely to attempt to go to another event hosted by you again. A slippery slope to be sure, but we've all seen web pages written so horribly as to evoke those responses. And there really is no excuse for a web page to be hard to understand when it only takes a few minutes to make it easy to absorb the information.

You actually respect your readers more by making things obvious. It sounds counter-intuitive, but even geniuses have busy days when it's easy to miss something. Having the When (or any of the details) under a big neon sign helps prevent your readers from missing the event because they couldn’t find out when they needed to arrive. You don't have to make it look unattractive, merely stand out.

Summary

It's all about honoring your readers' time and ability to get information. Don't make things over-complicated. Make things easy to find and easy to figure out. Avoid dumbing things down, but ensure any confusing terms are properly defined (especially when terms can mean radically different things in slightly different cultures). If you put time and energy into making your event page easy to get to and get information out of, your readers will put time and energy into getting to your event.

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