The Funnel of Focus (article writing)

The Funnel of Focus

A Way to Focus a Magazine Article

by Gerald Grow
Professor of Journalism, Florida A&M University (1985-2009)

Directions: Work your way down the funnel by inventing a library-sized topic and narrowing it until you reach the size and focus of a magazine article.

Topic that would Fill a Library of Thousands of Books


Topic Big Enough to Fill an entire 600-page book

(Parental involvement in education)

Would be the topic of an ongoing magazine

(The Parent-Teacher)

Would fill a whole Issue of a magazine

(What can parents do to help their kids in school.)

Several articles in a magazine

(Several articles directed to parents helping kids in different grades.)

One article in a magazine

(How parents can help teenagers with high school.)

One article in a particular magazine

(How to set up a volunteer program to help with high school math. For a magazine read by professionals who use and value math.)

A Focused

(How to organize your colleagues to start and run a volunteer program in local high school math classes. A 2000-word article with two sidebars and a resource list, directed to a magazine read by electrical engineers.

Sidebar 1: Steps.

Sidebar 2: Common problems.

Based on the story of an engineer I know who did so, with additional information from the guidance department at my old high school, two recent books on volunteers in schools, and the National Volunteers In America website resources.)

Focus Worksheet

Answer the following series of questions to focus your idea from general to specific:

  1. What large Topic (that would Fill a Library of Hundreds or Thousands of Books) is your idea part of?
  2. What is a book-length version of your topic? (Look for actual published books on your topic.)
  3. State your topic as the theme of all the articles in a whole issue of a magazine. What magazine might publish this issue?
  4. State your topic as the subject of a section of a magazine that consists of several related articles. Name three magazines that might publish such a section.
  5. State a magazine-article-length version of your idea.
  6. Describe your idea as one article in a particular magazine. Recast the idea for three magazines that differ significantly from one another. Name and characterize each magazine as part of the idea.
  • Magazine 1:
  • Magazine 2:
  • Magazine 3:
  1. Describe your idea as one article. State a version of the idea that could be completed satisfactorily in the space of one magazine article. Give the length you think it would require.
  2. Describe your idea as one article directed to a particular audience. Working from your answer to the previous question, now describe in more detail the characteristics of the magazine and its audience.
  3. Describe your final idea:
  • type of article (How To, Profile, etc.)
  • its focussed topic and length
  • specific magazine it is targeted to
  • characteristics of readers of that magazine
  • how you will develop the idea
  • resources you will use to do so, and how you will obtain them and complete the article within the time available
  • extras–sidebars, photos, illustrations, celebrities

Topics from Small to Large

Your assignment now is to carry out the same exercise in reverse.

Come up with a series of ideas that are not large enough to fill a 1500-word magazine article (at least, not without a vast amount of empty invention). Then work slowly up to larger and larger concepts, till you reach a concept the size of a magazine article idea.

Devise the following:

  1. a topic that can be covered by one word.
  2. a topic that can be covered in a sentence.
  3. a topic that can be covered in a sidebar.
  4. a topic that can be covered in a bullet list of no more than 10 items.
  5. a topic that can be covered in one or two pictures with captions.
  6. a topic that can be covered in a small infographic.
  7. a topic that can be covered in a paragraph.
  8. a topic that can be covered in a passage of a few paragraphs.
  9. a topic that can be covered in a page.
  10. a topic that can be covered in around 500 words.
  11. a topic that can be covered in around 1000 words.

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