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Generate and Refine Ideas

Using Journalist’s Questions

Journalists use a set of questions when they report a story. You’ve most likely heard of them before—“Who? What? Why? When? Where? How?” Using journalist’s questions (also known as asking strategic questions) can be a good way to begin thinking comprehensively about your topic. You can ask the questions in any order, but remember some questions may need to be asked more than once (for example, there may be more than one “who”), and you may need to ask not only the “why” of the topic but also the “why not.”


In a research paper about the sea level of Long Beach Island, the writer began by asking journalist’s questions:


What? the rise in sea level of Long Beach Island
Who? it affects the Long Beach Island community (residents and officials); it affects federal agencies
Where? Long Beach Island, New Jersey
When? both an immediate threat and long term threat
Why? rise in sea level comes from global warming and green house effect
How? Prevent by raising islands (pumping sand onto beaches)

In this example, you can see that there may be more than one “who.” From this point, the writer could use the answers to her questions to develop a thesis for a research paper.