3.2 Assignment Clarification

The “5 Ws and H” (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How) checklist that journalists use in covering a story or that strategic communicators would need to consider when developing a campaign can be used with a slightly different orientation for communicators who need to clarify an assignment.

Let’s imagine that in the strategic communications context your boss sends the following text: “Our client is interested in exploring bitcoin. See what you can find out.” Or in the newsroom your editor drops by and says, “The Times had a big story about bitcoin. Should we cover this?” How do you even start? In upcoming lessons we will delve in to the kinds of questions you’ll ask and answer when developing a research agenda (who is the audience, what are the angles of the topic, where might you find information.) But before you can begin to understand the specifics of the research task itself you need further clarification about the gatekeeper’s expectations. Following are some of the kinds of questions you might ask to clarify the assignment.

Marco Belluci – Question Mark – CC BY 2.0

WHO? Who will be seeing the report you produce? This will give you clues as to the nature of the language to use, the formality or informality of the report you deliver. Previous experience with this person or team will inform you about their expectations.

WHAT? What form should the information take? Learn if this is just an informal backgrounder, information needed to justify a whole new campaign or series idea, or a competitive intelligence report. Knowing what type of report or document is expected will help you set a framework for the task.

WHEN? When is the work to be delivered? Knowing the deadline or desired delivery date for your work will help you gauge what level of work can be done (and help you manage your boss’ expectations.)

WHERE? Where will the report be delivered? Do they want a written report, a briefing at a meeting, a document shared on the office cloud?

WHY? Why is the information needed? Is a campaign / series already planned and they need concrete information to move the plan forward? Is this just exploratory to see if there is justification for a particular direction?

Once these questions are answered, the HOW to begin researching will be much easier to answer.

Most of the assignments you are given are intended to ultimately lead to a communications message of some type. Whether it will result in a news release, or a new advertising campaign, or a news story, knowing as much as possible about the intended outcome of the research work you do will help you understand the amount and type of information you’ll need to research.
Although the answers to the these questions might be revealed later in the process, it is important to understand that the answers will help form your information strategy.