A simple method for writing quality content... even under pressure.

A Stress-Free Way to Build Quality Content Faster: The MoSCoW Method

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt the stress and frustration of writer’s block, including but not limited to the following:

  • Not knowing where to start
  • Unable to find inspiration
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Lack of motivation
  • Brain fog

Even if you’ve been writing for many years, you may experience these emotions from time to time. It’s perfectly normal.

But, what if there were a simple method that could help you eliminate or reduce these unpleasant feelings while increasing your writing output?

When I worked as part of a digital-marketing team, one question that came up regularly was, “What do we do first?” And then, “What do we do next?” And so on.

Figuring out the answers to those questions was a recurring source of stress and frustration for our marketing team and our writers. It led to a great deal of time wasted attending too many meetings and sending unproductive back-and-forth emails and text messages.

We tested many prioritization techniques to help streamline our process. One I particularly liked is called “The MoSCoW Method.”

Although this method wasn’t specifically designed with writing in mind (it was originally used in the context of product/software development), I started using the essence of this method to help me with writing projects. And I discovered it works well.

MoSCoW is an acronym that stands for:

  • Must Have
  • Should Have
  • Could Have
  • Won’t Have

It terms of a writing project, you would use each of those headings to help you get started, see the best possibilities for the project, and stay on track.

  • Must Have items are non-negotiable requirements – things your client expects to see in the final deliverable. Things like:
    • Word count limits
    • Topics covered
    • Content guidelines
    • Document formatting
    • Flesch-Kincaid readability score
    • Legal requirements (industry-specific)
    • Deadlines
    • Anything specifically requested from the client
  • Should Have items are those things suggested or brought up by the client but not necessarily required. A client may feel strongly about focusing on a specific benefit (must have), but then might list some other benefits it would be good to include, as well (should haves). As you work, other ideas, benefits, and features may surface that can make the piece stronger. Add them to the should-have list or could-have list.
  • Could Haves may be the most open-ended list and require the most thought. What are some ideas or augmentations you think could strengthen the project? These items often expand the scope of the project, so they may need to be discussed with the client before you decide how to proceed with each. Or, they provide you with the opportunity to exceed client expectations. Determining which of the items in the could-have bucket make the cut depends on various factors, and you’ll have to think each through carefully.
  • Won’t Haves are the things explicitly stated by the client to exclude. For example, the client asks you not to mention the product name specifically, because you’re working on an email promotion where the goal is to get the reader to click to the landing page to learn more about the product.Specifically articulating things as a “won’t have” will prevent them from accidentally slipping into a should-have or could-have section by mistake.

Once you’ve organized everything according to the above, focus on sequencing out the information for the best flow for the content.

Then you can revise and polish the piece to make it more readable and compelling.

The MoSCoW Method for Writing Helps Prioritize Within a Project

Most of the time, prioritization is looked at in terms of what projects you spend time on when. The MoSCoW approach helps you set priorities in terms of individual projects… so you make sure you provide everything the client is expecting, and so your efforts to exceed expectations meet with a big payoff.

Writer’s block can stem from a lack of clarity about the next steps. This method helps provide a starting point to get you rolling out the gates.

By getting organized this way, you’ll likely think of new ideas and angles you haven’t thought of before. You can use your creative energies to produce better quality insights.

And, it helps you apply the 80/20 rule, where most of your energy and mental focus can be freed up for the most impactful and challenging aspects of your writing project.

Keep This in Mind When Using the MoSCoW Method…

One caveat of the MoSCoW Method is no hard and fast rule exists to distinguish between a “should have” and a “could have.” It’s relatively easy to figure out the “must haves,” and “won’t haves,” but “should haves” and “could haves” will vary between clients and projects. You’ll have to use your best judgment on a case-by-case basis. The more stakeholders involved, the more this issue is likely to be amplified. It’s important for everyone to be on the same page from the get-go.

Though imperfect, you can use the MoSCoW Method as a simple and intuitive prioritization technique for your writing projects.

To put this into action today, try organizing the four groupings of MoSCoW via post-it notes, index cards, a free online tool like Trello, or Google sheets. And, don’t be afraid to get creative with this method based on your own situation.

As you get better at applying the MoSCoW Method, it will become second nature. When that happens, you’ll start to notice every project is easier to start… and you produce a better result, too.

What are your thoughts on incorporating the MoSCoW Method into your writing? Please let us know in the comments below!

Rodney Lui

Rodney Lui

Rodney is a direct response copywriter and marketing strategist, specializing in helping B2B companies generate more leads from their websites, email campaigns, and ads. He lives and works in New York City.

One Comment

  • Rodney, this makes perfect sense and I will be sure to use this technique. Any way to get fresh content is good. Thank you.

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