Generate, Filter, Focus: An algorithm to help you cheat at writing

by Michael Bernstein on March 03, 2017

Writing persuasively can be very intimidating. Thankfully, the process of producing targeted, convincing writing that connects with your audience can be broken up into parts and approached logically. This post introduces a process I call Generate, Filter, Focus (GFF), which is aimed at helping people do just that.

A graphical depiction of GFF

A graphical depiction of GFF

It works like this: first, you generate to produce a ton of material, without the burden of criticism or editing. Then, you **filter **to apply editing after the fact. Finally, you **focus, **flesh out your ideas, and move on.

Putting GFF to work

This process can seem kind of abstract, so let’s see how it works in practice. In this scenario, we need some new copy for our homepage: a title and a subtitle. To get the words just right, we should pay attention to the following:

  1. Persona: who you are targeting with your writing

  2. **Messaging: **precisely what you want to persuade your audience to understand

  3. **Copy: **the actual words you’ll use to persuade them

Let’s see how we would use GFF to help with this process, starting with our persona:

  1. Generate a list of potential personas by looking at your existing customers, potential customers, or by just making them up.

  2. Filter these personas to two or three choices that sound best, and begin to flesh them out.

  3. Focus on one persona —* just one* persona. Spend time filling out a questionnaire on their behalf. Wonder about what kind of food they like, where they get their information. Get into it.

Next, GFF can also help you nail your messaging based on the persona you’ve chosen. Here’s how:

  1. Generate a list of reasons that your persona cares about your product. Why do they use it? What problem does it solve? What’s attractive to them about it?

  2. Filter these reasons by vetoing any that aren’t important. Narrow them down to 3 final examples — you’ll probably have some overlap in your original list. “Kill, keep, combine” can be helpful here.

  3. Focus on one key example — this is what your messaging should focus on. Spend the time to critically consider if you’ve made the right choice.

The final stage of your process is to use GFF to help you write your final copy. Your persona and messaging work are inputs into the process. You might follow a process like this to help you write your heading and subheading:

  1. Generate a list of key phrases and ideas — maybe do some mind mapping, or use sticky notes, or whatever. Think for a while. Stare at your persona writeup. Stare at your messaging. What are you trying to express?

  2. Filter your phrases and separate them into groups if possible — are there complimentary ideas that can be stuck together for the H1/H2 pairing? Veto some right away. Fight for the ones you want to keep. Choose two candidate pairings.

  3. **Focus **by choosing the one pair everyone can agree on. Edit and refine relentlessly until you are happy with the outcome.

You did it! You used GFF! You can use this same basic process to create content calendars, to compose tweets, to help you outline an eBook, to create content for a presentation slide deck, to write blog posts, and more.

I hope you’ve found this useful. GFF appeals to me because** generating** keeps me creative, filtering makes me think critically, and focusing makes sure that I actually do the work I’m supposed to, instead of just worrying about it.

How do you approach writing? What do you think of GFF? What are your thoughts? Get into the discussion on Market News!