Five Ws and H

A to Z of
Creativity Techniques
Fishbone Diagram
Flow charts
I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When
And How and Why and Who.

From "The Elephant's Child" by Rudyard Kipling

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

The Five W’s and H, are an influential, inspirational and imaginative checklist (often used by journalists). The technique uses basic question generating prompts provided by the English language. The method is useful at any level from a formal checklist to complete informality. For example:

  • Informal ‘back-of-an-envelope’ use, is suitable as a quick-aide checklist, a private checklist to keep in mind when in an on going discussion, quick points scribbled down in a meeting, or to generate further questions.
  • To generate data-gathering questions, during the early stages of problem solving when you are gathering data, the checklist can be useful either as an informal or systematic way of generating lists of question that you can try to find answers for.
  • To generate idea-provoking questions, Whilst brainstorming, brainwriting or some other such similar technique, the checklist could be used as a source of thought provoking questions to help build on existing ideas.
  • To generate criteria, the checklist could help in generating criteria for evaluating options.
  • To check plans, the checklist is a useful tool for planning implementation strategies.

However, the ‘question words’ owe their strength to their fundamental place in the English language, and can conceal some of the assets of nature that our language copes less well with. The responses to the questions in the checklist are usually facts, rather than actions or problems.

  • For example, the answer to ‘Who does X?’ could be ‘Janet’. To use this answer in a problem-solving context you may have to take to another level
  • For example ‘OK – if Janet does X, in what way might we make it easier for her.

This ‘in what way might’ (IWWM) stage is crucial if the facts are to come alive and contribute to the creative process. See also Dimensional Analysis.