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rhetorica® writing system

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.

Planning ain’t sexy…but it IS essential

Humbling feedback from a (highly discerning!) participant in a writing workshop I ran recently for a humanitarian organization in London. (The 100% score refers to the fact that every participant rated the day as ‘Excellent’.)

What did I do to deserve such plaudits?

In part, it was the result of convincing the group of the need to plan, and how to do it.

If you don’t plan, you won’t write with impact

Most people don’t plan before they draft. Many pay lip-service to it, but if they do it at all, they do it badly.

I get it: planning your writing is neither sexy nor exciting. It tends to be a cerebral, abstract process with little or no output, other than maybe a MindMap or some random notes. Often under deadline pressure, technical professionals want to crack on with drafting, to feel they’re making progress. I call this an ‘action-illusion’: it makes them feel busy, but it’s neither effective nor efficient.

And like editing, planning is optional.

You don’t have to plan, like you don’t have to edit. But your writing won’t have the same impact. The only thing you must do (obvs!), if you want to produce a written document, is draft.

What are the risks of not planning?

The biggest risk of diving into drafting without planning (‘premature drafting’) is you get halfway through your document and realise your ideas are half-baked, there are gaps in your knowledge, you don’t know your reader as well as you thought or you’ve disappeared down an intellectual rabbit hole. So you throw your draft away and start again. We call this a ‘re-write’ and it’s a disaster: you’ve wasted time, energy and morale, which in turn puts you under even more pressure. Using drafting to clarify your thinking is an abuse of process. Big No-No.

What are the benefits of planning?

If our instinct is to avoid planning, we need to motivate ourselves to do it by reminding ourselves of the benefits. I think there are five big ones:
1. Impact. You engage your reader and hold their attention throughout, because your content is relevant, well-structured and organized.
2. Clarity. Because you’ve done your research, developed your arguments and clarified your ideas. You’ve thought it all through before pen hits paper (or fingers hit keyboard). Head clarity generates page clarity.
3. Effectiveness. Thanks to 1. and 2., you change your reader’s behaviour. Persuasive writing is not about pretty words or clever language: it’s about getting the reader to think, say or act differently.
4. Efficiency. By re-drafting less and avoiding re-writes altogether, we save precious time, writing a stronger document faster.
5. Confidence. When I’ve planned well and know where I’m going with my document, I feel more in control of the process. This relaxes me and gives me confidence to start drafting.

“Great, Scott, we’re convinced of the need to plan. But how do we do it?”

Aha. That’s for next time.

In my next blog post, I’ll share the five planning techniques of my rhetorica® writing system, summarised in the acronym S.T.O.R.M. — Structure. Timing. Objective. Reader. Message.

Till then, good luck with your writing!

The Writing Guy’s tip: time spent planning is never wasted.

rhetorica® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques

Write for Results


My book on persuasive writing has been getting some rave reviews. One poor deluded soul even put me in the same class as HW Fowler, Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves) and Stephen King. (Clearly, the bung was worth it.)

I’m now on a mission to take the book and its 21 techniques to an audience way beyond B2B — to young people and students, as well as non-English speakers who work and write in English. It seems to me there’s a huge gap between the basic spelling & grammar taught in primary schools and the increasingly sophisticated writing demanded in secondary and tertiary education. The cliché is that ‘English writing skills are caught, not taught’. Reading Dickens, Shakespeare and Jane Austen — much as I love ‘em — won’t necessarily make you a good writer. As I say in my book, writing well is neither a black art nor an innate gift, but a learnable skill.

If you happen to have any senior contacts in education wherever you are, pls introduce them to me. Thanks. (And if you want to join my mission, get in touch!)

Finally, pls diarise 30/31 March for the official launch of the discounted Kindle version (£0.99/$0.99) of the book. All proceeds will go to the two charities I’m supporting: Blind Veterans UK and the Type Archive, a unique collection of 3 million typefaces, fonts and historic printing presses. Both organisations do amazing work and need all the help they can get; I’m just doing my bit for them.

rhetorica ® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques

Write for Results

Although my book on persuasive writing is now available on Amazon, I’m launching the Kindle version end March for £0.99/$0.99, with all proceeds going to my two designated charities: Blind Veterans UK and the Type Archive, a globally unique collection of type, typefaces and historic printing presses. Both organisations do amazing work and need all the help they can get. I’ll remind you of the Kindle launch nearer the time.

If you just want to dip a toe into the limpid pool of my book, check out these three chapters.

If you do buy a copy and like what you see, then pls post a review. A few kind souls have already left 5-star reviews, but for the end March launch I want to have amassed dozens. Apparently Amazon promotes books that get a certain number of positive reviews.

The cover of rhetorica ® — which I’m thrilled with and which gets lots of positive comments — was designed by Professor Phil Cleaver. Phil instantly ‘got’ my desire to make rhetorica ® a covetable object. Besides running a design studio in Oxford, Phil is an expert in typesetting, typography and typographic history, and introduced me to the Type Archive. He’s the best designer I’ve ever worked with.

Next sales writing & design open course: 23/24 February 2017

Write for Results

This is a new take on my annual writing skills open course for professionals: I’ve added a design element. Run in the City of London in collaboration with Top Consultant, a management consultancy recruiter, this 1½-day workshop will show you how to write with power and persuasion, then lay out your words so that people want to read them.

Day 1 features my rhetorica ® writing techniques, complete with exercises, debriefs and wide-ranging discussions about writing. The following morning, Professor Phil Cleaver, my book designer, will cover topics like What is type?, a brief history of type, some do’s & don’ts of typesetting, examples of good and bad layout and, for the truly brave, a (gentle) critique of delegates’ document samples for everyone to learn from.

As Prof. Phil says, ‘There’s no point writing the most persuasive words if they’re so badly laid out they’re not inviting to read’.

Here’s the link to find out more.

rhetorica ® open course, 23/24 February 2017

Write for Results

Following the 1-day open course I ran in March in London in conjunction with Top Consultant, specialists in management consulting recruitment, I’m running another one. But this one’s a bit different.

23/2/17 is a 1-day workshop on my 21 rhetorica ® writing techniques, but on the morning of 24/2/17 Professor Phil Cleaver will treat us to a brief explanation of type and its history, plus some top tips on page layout, document design and typesetting. Then he’ll do a gentle critique of sample documents submitted by delegates that we can all learn from.

As Prof. Phil says, ‘There’s no point writing the most persuasive words if they’re so badly laid out they’re not inviting to read’.

A multi-award winning designer, Phil is Professor in the Creative Industries at Middlesex University and has worked with some of the world’s top graphic artists and typographers. (Surpassing all that, of course is the fact he designed the cover of my book and is doing my re-branding. Only kidding.)

You can attend either day or both days of the open course. Click here for more details.

rhetorica ® Online

Write for Results

February also sees the launch of the first modules of my online writing skills programme, which builds on the 21 persuasive writing techniques of the book. You don’t have to have read the book, but it will help (I would say that, though, wouldn’t I?)

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for details of the February launch of rhetorica ® the book and the online programme.

If you would like a reminder nearer the time, leave a reply below.

rhetorica ® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques

Write for Results

My book on persuasive writing is finished and ready for its February 2017 launch — but you can have a sneak-peek.  Click on the picture of the book to go to the Amazon page. If you want to buy a copy now (and post a review on Amazon), you can do that, too.

For two days at the start of February I plan to offer the Kindle version for 99p, with all proceeds going to two charities: Blind Veterans UK and The Type Archive.

My book features the story of Lance Bombardier Rob Long, who was blinded by an IED in Afghanistan, and who is turning his life around with the help of Blind Veterans UK.

The Type Archive houses the National Typefounding Collection, the largest and most valuable collection of type in Britain; it also promotes literacy around the country. Staffed solely by volunteers, it hangs by a financial thread, so it needs help. (I’m tithing my annual profits to both these organisations, too.)