How the 5 Ws of Journalism Can Help You Become a Better Freelancer

Journalists and other professional writers use the Five Ws (and one H) to make sure that they get enough information to write a good article. However, freelancers can use the same principles to improve their freelancing skills.

Did you ever start working on a project, only to realize that you don’t actually have enough information to get the job done? If you’d considered the 5 Ws of journalism that I’ll introduce to you in this post, you might have been able to avoid that problem.

In this post, I’ll explain what the five Ws are and describe how you can apply them to your freelancing business.

At the end of the post, please share some questions that you ask clients before you start to work.

What Are the Five Ws?

Freelance journalists are already familiar with the five Ws, but other freelancers probably need a bit of explanation.

Each W represents a question that needs to be answered.

In journalism the five Ws are:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?

And most journalists also add:

  • How?

As you glance at the list, you can probably see that if a writer gets detailed answers to those questions, they will probably have enough information to write a story. Now it is time to make the five Ws work for freelancers.


Understanding your client is critical to successful freelancing.

A good freelancer needs to gather the basic contact information about their client such as:

  • Name
  • Location
  • Email
  • Address
  • Phone

However, the best freelancers will make a sincere effort to learn and understand who their client really is, going beyond just the basic information about the client. Some ways to help you discover who your client really is include:

  • Look at their mission statement. Most company mission statements express who they want to be.
  • Examine the corporate history. This will tell you where your client came from.
  • Try to figure out what makes your client tick. Find out what drives your client to do what they do.
  • Discover your client’s reputation. Who does your client’s customers think they are?

If you review the information that you find, you are well on your way to really understanding who your client is.


A freelancer also needs to know what their client does. This entails understanding the client’s product or service as well as knowing a little bit about their industry.

Are you really aware of all of the products or services that your client offers? Find out what their most popular products are and which products are not so popular.

Understanding what your client does will give you a head start in providing them with the best freelancing services.

Once you understand what your client does, you need to understand what they want from you. Make sure that you come to an agreement about the scope of your project.


Business customs and laws are different in different parts of the world. Where your client is located affects how they do business.

To be an effective freelancer, you should think about where your client is located. Pay particular attention to any restrictions or limitations that they may face due to their location.

If your client speaks a different language than you, it may be necessary to hire a translator to make sure that you are communicating clearly.


The delivery date for a project is one of the most important pieces of information that you can get from your client. Also, remember that the delivery date can often be negotiated, so don’t panic if the first date that your client mentions isn’t realistic.

Once you’ve agreed upon a delivery date, be sure to get it in writing. Next, make sure that you stick to the agreed upon date. A missed deadline is usually a sure way to lose a client.


While the other questions are important to freelancers, this question is the one that allows you to really differentiate yourself from the competition.

If you can find out why the client is doing the project, you are in a position to suggest improvements for this project and to suggest additional projects that will really help the client meet their goal. Imagine the client satisfaction if you truly understood the client’s motivation for a project.


There are also a lot of “how” questions involved in freelancing:

  • How do you want this project done? This could refer to style or tools used.
  • How will you use the finished product? This will help you understand the client’s goal.
  • How many or how soon? There are also quantity and timing questions that can be answered by asking “how?”

Your Turn

Remembering “5 Ws and sometimes how” can be a quick tool to help you make sure that you have enough information to successfully complete your freelancing project.

What questions do you ask before you start a project? Share your answers in the comments.

Image by Steve-h


  1. says

    Great post, Laura!

    I do my research and get a list of questions when I go to meet with a future client. But mostly, I try to listen. Just a few questions can unleash a torrent of needs and wants that can expand your original proposal and help you serve the client better and build a long-term relationship.

    Along with that, you need to make sure your client knows that every time they ask, “Can you do this?” it’s likely to take more hours or expand the original project, which will add to the cost. I have a client who is notorious for this; I’ve learned to carefully document my time so I can explain the additions and their costs at the end of the project. As long as I can justify it, he’s happy to pay.

  2. says

    A great list for all in this business. If you haven’t used them yet, no better time, thanks to Laura for taking the effort to point these out.

    Clients definitely appreciate you knowing their background instead of turning up with blank stares and a bunch of lengthly questions. It shows a lot about the way you work because it shows that you bother. Clients like to feel they matter.

  3. says

    Morgan & Me Creative–Thanks for looking over the list. I think some readers saw the word “journalism” and immediately thought the post was for writers, but really all freelancers can use these tips.

  4. says

    Thanks for the tips, Laura.

    I was bothered by the first item not because I think there is something wrong with it, but because I just realized how much I’ve been neglecting it. Yes, I try to get to know new clients but it does not go beyond learning what they want from me.

    I realized that it would help a lot if I get to know what their objectives are. Finding out what their company aims to achieve and what motivates them would really help me work better with clients.

    Another great post. Looking forward to more posts like this!

  5. says

    An fascinating discussion may be worth comment.
    I think you should write on this topic, it might certainly be a taboo
    subject however in most cases people are not enough to dicuss on such
    topics. To a higher. Cheers


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