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September 2023

How do we make our writing likeable?

Brand Builders TV Scott Keyser Persuasive Writing

“When I find a piece of writing hard to read, I immediately dislike the writer — ‘cos they couldn’t be bothered to make it easy for me.”

Damning words from Sean, an IT consultant who attended a writing workshop I ran this week. Sean’s words got us into discussing the idea of ‘likeable’ writing and, by extension, of liking the writer.

First off, what is likeable writing?

In my book, it’s writing that gives you the information you need in a simple, easy, accessible style, shot through with a touch of flair and flamboyance (from the French, meaning ‘to blaze’ or ‘flame’). Likeable writing makes reading an enjoyable, stimulating experience that endears you to the writer — even if they’re a complete stranger.

So, how do we do it? I think there are three elements:
1. Content
2. Clarity
3. Personality

Content…is king

I’m sorry, but this is an area I can’t help you with.

Assuming you’re expert in your field, you should be able to present information to the reader that is relevant and timely, with intellectual rigour and precision. If you lack that expertise, you’re unlikely to be able to influence their behaviour, emotions or views.

And if you are truly an expert, wear your learning lightly, ie make it your goal to help your reader, not to show how clever you are. Make it all about them, not you.

Clarity (from the Latin, claritas, clearness)

I’m really clear about this (!) Clear writing can be read and understood in one go, one reading. If we force our reader to re-read and re-read our words, we’re gonna lose them. Here are three practical ways of writing clearly:

1. Omit needless words. This is the best way to write concisely. By removing words that add no value, content, meaning or information, we tighten our writing. We make our point in as few words as possible. If we ramble, waffle or meander, our reader will vote with their feet (their eyes?) and stop reading.
In order to further her career => To further her career (33% shorter)
For training and quality purposes => For training and quality (20% shorter)
On a quarterly basis => Quarterly (75% shorter)

2. Shorten your sentences. The higher our ASL (Average Sentence Length, in words), the more we’re cramming into each sentence, the harder we’re making our reader work to get our meaning. In general, the harder we make our readers work, the faster we lose them. The science of readability shows that the ideal ASL is 15 – 20 words: higher than 20 and we’re over-taxing the reader’s brain; lower than 15 and our writing risks sounding simplistic or childish. The Readability Statistics in Word calculate your ASL for you, among other useful ratios. If you get stuck, contact me.

3. Use plain English. Give yourself permission to use natural, everyday, conversational language. You’ll sound human. If you use management-speak, BS-Bingo or MBA-itis, you’ll sound like a corporate drone and turn your reader off. This is NOT about dumbing-down your writing; it’s about using simpler language.
give assistance to => help
purchase => buy
request => ask
commence => begin, start, launch 
depart => leave
You don’t make yourself sound smart by using needlessly formal language: you just annoy your reader (like Sean).


This is the missing link in B2B writing.

Most business writing is competent and comprehensible…but dull. And that’s usually because the writer has chosen to leave their innate, unique, authentic, inimitable human personality at the door. They pepper their writing instead with hackneyed, boilerplate, pre-fabricated phrases (We are committed to serving you…We provide leading-edge, market-facing products…Our people are our most valuable asset etc etc). This is the refuge of the lazy or the unconfident writer.

Resorting to lifeless language not only robs the writing of vitality; it also kills any joy the writer might get from writing.

What, then, is writing with personality?

It’s when the writer isn’t scared to go out on a limb and express strong views. The reader may disagree with those views, but if they’re informed and well argued, it can make for an engaging read.

Personality can also take the form of levity, ie light-heartedness; being playful with either topic or language — provided it’s appropriate in the context; not taking ourselves too seriously, poking fun at ourselves.

Finally, using plain English allows our personality to come through our writing. Nothing kills personality faster than needlessly formal, pompous, wordy language. It masks who we really are and alienates the reader.

Do any of the above and Sean might become your pen pal.


Scott Keyser is The Writing Guy. Writing is a life skill and he’s solved the riddle of how to do it well, with his rhetorica® persuasive writing system of 15 techniques — five planning, five drafting, five editing.

Writing ‘with faith’, ie confidence

Jargon Definition Write for Results Scott Keyser

Delegate feedback on my rhetorica® writing programmeI’ve just delivered another of my virtual rhetorica®  writing programmes to ten IT consultants.

At the end of the third and final session (on Editing), I asked them to post in the zoom chat what they’ll change about their writing, plus the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ scores in their writing confidence.

As you can see from the screenshot, everyone felt more confident at the end than at the start of the programme. Result!

Why confidence matters

From the two Latin words con and fide, meaning ‘with faith’, confidence is often the link missing between dull writing and writing that leaps off the page into the reader’s heart and mind.

When we write with confidence, our words flow fearlessly: we express our (informed) views on the topic in service to the reader and their needs. We feel able to express who we really are, and not hide behind corporate-speak or techie ‘jargon’ (a medieval French word meaning ‘chattering birdsong’). We take them by the hand and walk with them through the landscape of our experience or expertise. They feel they are in safe hands, so trust us. And readers that trust us are likelier to do what we invite or recommend them to do.

How did my training boost their writing confidence?

My rhetorica® writing system of 15 simple, universal techniques (five planning, five drafting, five editing) demystifies what for some is a black art, or an innate skill, ie you’ve either got it or you haven’t.

This is just not the case.

The ability to write with personality, persuasion and power is a learnable skill within the gift of anyone already literate. The cliche  that ‘good writing is caught, not taught’ I’ve disproved by improving the writing skills of over 5000 technical professionals since 2004.

By separating planning from drafting from editing, the rhetorica® system breaks the process down into three discrete steps, with each step containing five techniques that anyone of any background can master.

For instance, one of the five planning techniques is Nail your Objective. For this we use F.F.A. to identify the Facts, Feelings and the Actions we want the reader to take. In other words, we’re breaking down the reader’s desired behaviour change into three dimensions: what we want them to know, feel and do. That drives clarity into the objective or purpose of our communication, influencing our word-choice and the structure of our document.

When we’re drafting, we need to write concisely. The single guaranteed way to write concisely is to Omit Needless Words, ie remove the words that add no value, content, meaning or information. A simple example: instead of saying ‘In order to further her career’, just say ‘To further her career’. That’s a 50% saving in verbiage! (Your reader will love you for it.)

And when we’re editing, in the third and final writing step, one of the things we should do is read our writing out loud.

R.O.L. is a favourite of mine (and of pro writers), ‘cos it’s so darned simple and effective.

When we read our writing out loud — audibly, so we hear every single word — we catch the long-winded, the obscure, the vague, the pretentious, the verbose. If it sounds good to you, it’ll probably sound good to your reader.

What’s not to like?

The Writing Guy’s tip: write with confidence and your reader will have confidence in you.