Key frameworks to ensure you never run out of fresh articles
Stay tuned for my top methods to generate engaging article ideas. But first, a word on SEO and AI.
This article is designed for writers producing articles rather than SEO-driven blogs. If your employer is handing you keywords and long-tail search terms to chase, these will likely be the starting point for your ‘ideas factory’. Of course, much of the content we see online is written for Google, (rather than curious minds like yours) and that’s ok. I just wanted to address why I won’t be touching on SEO tools as a method to drive ideas.
Similarly, I won’t be talking about generative AI. ChatGPT et al can certainly help spit out article titles and concepts (though you’ll have to check they don’t already exist). However, I believe that relying heavily on auto-generated ideas will significantly alter the writer’s intention. Your thought process and the initial reason for creating an article will likely be warped by the ideas you see. For example, if the first ten blog titles it spits out are more ‘clickworthy’ (7 Amazing Ideas for the Cutest Puppy Photos!!!), you’ll be shifted towards creating a similar vibe, even though you may have created a more reflective post on your own. Also, if you go one step further and ask the AI to generate a framework for your post, it will likely produce a tried-and-tested format (e.g. a simplified how-to) rather than a more creative or organic post. Plus, it won’t include anything truly unique (e.g. your own experience).
So, now that’s dealt with, let’s talk ideas.
Do It Yourself
For most of us, a ‘topic’ will be the starting point for our writing direction. Without something to write about, you’ll never construct an article. This could be a topic of interest, something you’ve always wondered about, or part of a recent conversation you had. If you are struggling for inspiration here, try generating a word cloud from your previous content to look for topics to revisit, or work through the process of elimination. Start by striking off the major topics you’ll avoid (current affairs, health, sports, etc). Then, when you have an area to focus on, use elimination to narrow the topic. Keep going until you have something really specific.
So you have a topic. But a topic in itself is not a workable idea for an article. You’ll have to pair it with something first. Try this:
One acronym that helps me consider the ‘what’, ‘who’, and ‘why’ of my writing is CAP. You can use this as a jumping-off point for ideas.
C is for context. Consider the exact parameters of the form — the length of the text, how it appears (the shape and size on screen for example), and what is generally expected of the format. What are you looking to write?
A is for audience. Who exactly are you writing for? Be as specific as possible about who they are. Next, ask what they want. If you know what your audience wants, you can deliver it!
P is for purpose. This is the reason you are writing. Is it to inform, persuade, negotiate, or apologise? Whatever it is, it may start a few ideas pinging around your head.
After completing your CAP analysis, consider the ‘container’ for your topic. Not everything has to be a guide or listicle.
Typical writing structures:
- Chronological (e.g. a story)
- Spatial (e.g. a description of a place)
- Sequenced (e.g. a process description or list)
- Compare/contrast (e.g. ‘Which is better, A or B?’)
- Advantage/disadvantage (e.g. a review)
- Cause-effect (e.g. current affairs topics)
- Problem-solution (e.g. ‘How to’ / or ‘How to avoid’)
If you’ve been inspired by something you’ve read on the topic, this step could be crucial. Make sure to rehouse the article you enjoyed in a new container. And add some personal flavour too. Voilà! An idea.
Maybe you choose to write an article on the advantages and disadvantages of working from home. Fine. Now it’s time to ask questions. The more questions you ask, the more you develop your idea. Try to go several levels deeper with the questions.
Question: What is the main benefit of working from home?
Answer: More time with your family.
Question: Why is more family time such a great benefit?
Answer: It improves your marriage, you are around to provide a role model and help with your children’s schooling, and you have more time to cook healthy meals.
Question: How can you prove this?
Answer: There are studies on the impact of long hours and divorces, and children who get help at home do better in school.
Question: Do you have experience with this?
Answer: Yes, you felt a greater sense of wellbeing during the covid-19 lockdowns and you bonded with your daughter over a funny TV show. Then, the bastards forced you back into the 90-minute commute to the office.
And so on…
Ask questions to bring out your main points and you’ll have enough material for two or even three articles.
Keep on the Lookout
Many writers start with research — checking what articles are already out there, or perhaps delving much deeper into research through platforms like Quora, Amazon product reviews, newspaper or forum comments, or even tools like BuzzSumo.
In some way, shape or form, all ideas come from our experience. We might be directly influenced by one piece of writing or by a composite of many pieces.
When browsing online, look for WTF content — stories that are weird, thought-provoking, or funny. Let’s take an imaginary article called ‘Why you should always polish your cat before you sit down to write’. Weird. Why would you polish a cat? The contents of the article don’t matter so much here (unfortunately, it’s not a real article). What matters is applying a similar approach to your work. It might generate an angle for your story — could I use a cat metaphor in my ‘work from home article’? Alternatively, it might just give you the drive to sprinkle in some humour to your work. Either way, it’s generated or developed your idea.
If you are more of a visual person, you might be inspired by the creativity you find on design marketplaces, photography platforms, or even Google Images. Specify your topic, and see what jumps out.
Wherever you find inspiration, keep a document to dump ideas and a document to develop them. Before writing, spend time considering and picking over your ideas. The ones that you are most excited to write are usually what readers would consider the best ideas too.
Also, allocate time to thinking about your unique experience. Nowadays, machines can pump out a how-to or list-based blog on most topics in seconds. There is no point in you spending hours on it unless you share something of yourself. Take a topic, find your angle, and add your own take on the content — a personal story, your opinion, or your wisdom (based on first-hand experience). Add these ‘pieces of you’ to your ideas sheet, and you’ll soon find titles jumping off the page, waiting to be written.
Finally, be on the lookout for novel ways to present data. If you’ve seen an interesting stat or study in the news, you might ask ‘How can I turn this into a great article?’ Tell the story behind the data, or analyse a trend, so you can forecast it into the future. e.g. The Heartbreaking Stories of How The Daily Commute Suffocates American Marriages, or Will the Work-From-Home Revolution Kill Car Sales by 2030? Times are changing fast, so we’re drawn to ideas that can give us a jump on what’s next.
Ideas come from the stimuli you choose to engage with. Those could be articles, images, thoughts, or frameworks of your own, or created by others. Whatever you choose, make sure to vary it. If you keep going back to the same source of inspiration, your ideas will smell familiar.
Be sure to consider your writing intention. Typing a topic into a search engine or AI chatbot is not a deep and meaningful writing intention (which means your ideas might be shallow or easy to replicate). The key with prompts is to add your own experience or angle.
Remember to maintain a system for recording, revisiting, developing, and selecting ideas to write about. And if all else fails, go for a walk — you’ll return full of energy, and you’ll certainly have something to add to your ideas bank.
Philip Charter is a writing coach from the UK who works with multilingual content writers. Download his free writing tips eBook, How to Become a Proficient English Writer.
He is the author of two collections of short fiction and Fifteen Brief Moments in Time, a novella-in-flash.
Please feel free to connect on LinkedIn or get in touch via email.