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Writing With Rapport on the Web

So, you’ve done enough to get someone to visit your site.

But what if you’re hoping they’ll stick around?  Come back and read some more, learn a little, share a little maybe.  Perhaps you want to generate a sense of connection, to forge a relationship, or maybe to start the process of building a community.

What kind of language do you turn to then, to make your writing sticky?

The answer, for me at any rate, is writing with rapport.

Spider Plant Drop by audreyjm529 on flickr

Rapport is:

A relationship of mutual trust and understanding.*

We often talk about rapport in relation to body language: how we (often subconsciously) match and mirror the movements of others to show we’re paying attention, and to put them at their ease.

Less is said about how to establish rapport through the written word - but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty you can do.

Here are 15 suggestions for starters:

Make It Easy

  • Use plain language, and short words
  • Use everyday terms
  • Edit your writing so it’s error free (it saves your reader from tripping up)
  • Make it easy to scan and navigate your work (signposts, headings, bullet points)
  • Stick to one big idea at a time (it avoids confusion)

Make It Personal

  • Put yourself into your writing: your story, your values, your attitudes
  • Dig a little bit deeper for the things you really want to say.  That come from the heart.
  • Don’t be afraid to be imperfect. That’s how you create the connection
  • Share some specific things about where you are (right here, right now). It makes you seem real.
  • Write conversationally, as if talking to your reader, one to one

Make It Relevant

  • Look for things that connect: experiences and topics that are universal.  Draw out the elements that are general, across barriers of language, culture or specfic experience
  • Use general metaphors (like the bridge, or the journey) to allow people to connect and relate
  • Leave room for your readers: to think, reflect, share, comment
  • Think about your point: the idea, emotion or message you’d like your readers to take away, then look for the easiest way to get them there
  • Set a postive intention to create a positive state: although there might be times when you want to shock or provoke you can’t do that and also be in rapport

I’m just scratching the surface here - I have a lot of ideas I want to develop around this, and it might just turn into my second book on writing.

To start thinking about rapport yourself I’d encourage you to pay attention to your reactions when you’re reading.  Take note of those times when you feel rapport, when you feel that sense of connection - and times when you don’t feel it, or when you notice it’s been broken.

Then take a look at the writing behind it and think about the features, the style and the language that’s helped to make you feel that way.

* Quote from  Teach Yourself NLP

Photo Credit: Spider Plant Drop by audreyjm529 on flickr

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  1. Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter) says:

    Great tips! Thank you so much for these. I do some of them but I’ll definitely be trying out some of the others.

    Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter)s last blog post..Maitri: remembering we’re not alone

  2. Brad Shorr says:

    Joanna, What a marvelous collection of writing ideas. You are right on target. One that I struggle with is sticking to one idea at a time. Very important for blogs. Other ideas? One that you write about often (and put into practice) is to rely on your community for topics: ask readers what they would like explore; repurpose reader comments into blog posts. In sales, I learned: when in doubt - ask! I like to use humor, be it cartoons or whatever, to develop rapport, but I’m not sure how effective it is. Humor certainly isn’t for everyone, which goes back to putting yourself, your true self, into everything you write.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Should Consultants Call Themselves Consultants?

  3. Karen Swim
    Twitter: karenswim

    Joanna, what a great title! I saw it in my reader and could not wait to see what you had in store for us today. I like your idea about taking note of when we feel the connection. Recently, I was asked to review a piece of writing for a friend’s future son-in-law. It was passionate, with a strong voice but felt pretentious. While the voice and tone were wonderful and called to action, the words were “lofty.” I love language and adore complex words but find that as I age I appreciate it when the writing sounds “natural” like words you would speak to me on the phone. To build rapport I think we have to accomplish making people feel that we are talking to them and not at them. Simple, clear language accomplishes that beautifully.

    Karen Swims last blog post..Sharing the Love

  4. Carlos in fabula says:

    And read twice as more as you write. This way you can spare the world from reading the same blog posts about how to write over and over again… :)

    Carlos in fabulas last blog post..Advice for broke/bored writers

  5. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Joely thanks for the feedback. I don’t think you need them, but it’s sweet of you to say so :-)

    Brad I’m not sure I always stick to that one either, but I do notice when I’m reading that I get restless if I’m being asked to try and digest too many big things all at once. Humour is an interesting one - it can create a strong connection around a shared sense of humour, but you do run the risk of losing those who aren’t on the same wavelength. Plus you need to be smart to try humour - you’ll notice it’s not something I ever dabble in ;-)

    Karen I’m glad you like the headline - I’m trying to stretch and play a bit with them. “Talking to them not at them” is a perfect way to put it - I get very irritated (and lose rapport) whenever I feel people are talking at me. Even in an 140 character tweet!

    Interesting point about age… maybe we’re trying to impress more when we’re younger, care more about honesty as we get older?

  6. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Carlos, there’s probably not much writing advice that’s not already been written… One of the things about rapport is that it’s a way to build a connection with your readers beyond the mere content, whatever your subject matter.

  7. Jamie Grove - How Not To Write says:

    For me, the key is being open and honest. I want my sites to be approachable and warm. Sort of writing as if we were having a conversation at the cafe or the pub.

    As for styles that don’t work, I think the typical sales letter copy taught on many copywriting sites is probably the worst way to connect with readers. Might be good for selling the occasional person but it doesn’t work for connecting with people you want to come back to the site.

    On that whole SEO thing, I should add that to make a real impact in SEO you need to have content worth linking to. Sure, you can play link strategy of the day but you’ll be back at in 3-4 weeks once you’ve lost your position. Better to spend time working on real content…. And that’s my expert opinion as an eCommerce guru. Been there, done that, paid the consulting bill.

    Jamie Grove - How Not To Writes last blog post..Giving In To Creative Passion

  8. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Jamie, you certainly achieve that effect. I think there’s an art to being honest without scaring your readers away though - it doesn’t mean letting everything hang out, but being true to yourself and willing to share your hopes and fears.

    I hate the sales letters but there’s no getting round the fact they work - at least, they work in terms of making a sale. Not the same thing as building a long term connection / relationship

    As for SEO and content, I guess they need to go together - it’s a shame to see some sites with good content languishing because they’re not using all the tools they could to help people find them. But as say, bringing the visitors to your site and then disappointing them with poor content will a) see you lose your position and b) risk disappointing those same readers, who won’t come back for more

  9. Tumblemoose says:


    For me, I think making it personal is the key.

    I don’t have a problem with pointing a finger at myself when I’ve done something silly. I try and throw in a relative story now and then. I make a lot of use of self deprecating humor. I reference folks in my community on occasion.

    These things have made what I believe to be a very strong and loyal community. I absolutely feel I have a good rapport with the readership at my site and in some ways I think that rapport has spread amongst the readers themselves.

    Very inspirational post today, Joanna - and you know how I feel about those! ;-)


    Tumblemooses last blog post..How PC is your writing?

  10. Trina L. Grant says:

    I appreciate how the advice given was reflected in the format of the article. The ideas were excellent, and this is definitely unique advice. Nice work.

  11. Bruce Elkin says:

    Hi Joanna,
    I agree with Trina. You do practice what you preach, and that makes it easier for me to learn from your writing. I’ll book this one (and put it with the pacing and leading one) and come back to it over and over. Much appreciated!

  12. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    George I think I’m like you - the blogs I chose to follow are those where there’s a personal sense of connection. That means we don’t care about that person doing something silly! In fact it makes us closer to them, and helps us to see ‘you’re just like us’ - and that’s essential for creating rapport. I like the point about rapport going across the way between readers / your community as well as between you and readers. It takes another set of skills again to create the environment where that can happen. Thanks for adding that one… and of course for making it happen :-)

    Trina thanks so much for that feedback. I do try to walk my own talk, but it’s always gratifying to hear it played back to you. Thanks

    Bruce thank you. I agree - it’s a more powerful lesson to see how something is done - esp once you’ve started to pay attention to how an effect is being achieved. I’m very interested in this topic - including pacing and leading - and I hope you find it useful to think about and apply some of the ideas.

  13. wilson says:

    Another awesome post from Joanna (An applause for you, my friend!) Yeah, we should have no shame to show our “true color”, as we all human beings and we all do mistakes sometimes…

    Remember, no one will ever love to be friend with the impostor!

    wilsons last blog post..You Should Eat More Fruits and Vegetables After The Postpartum!

  14. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Wilson, thank you! Yes, showing our ‘true color’… that’s a good way of putting it :-)

  15. Karen
    Twitter: karenwallace

    Great post Joanna!

    The title drew me in, but as always it’s your writing - always practicing what you preach - that does it for me. I started down the Make It Easy list, thinking yup, yup… until I got to Stick to one big idea at a time. Ahhh - that’s what I needed to read today!

    It made me reflect on ohters posts where I click away, or just skim the content. Yep, they are full of waffle and lots of ideas and sicktracks… BIG note to self.

    But my biggest challenge here is something I’ve heard from you before - and it never fails to grab me - thinking about the point you want to make before you start to write. Hmmm…

    Thank you…

    PS Second book on writing?

    Karens last blog post..Sit quietly and be calm

  16. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Karen, I’m glad you enjoyed it and thank you for such detailed feedback. The thing about ‘the point’ is that it makes your writing clearer, better for your readers, but also so much easier to write, because you can focus on that thing, that point which means the worries about the words fall away. They start to write themselves.

    That’s my teaching philosophy anyway!

  17. SOB Business Cafe 04-03-09 - Liz Strauss at Successful Blog - Thinking, writing, business ideas … You’re only a stranger once. says:

    [...] Writing With Rapport on the Web: Spider Plant Babies and Sticky Writing [...]

  18. Barb Hartsook@OverCoffeeBlog says:

    How do I adapt my writing style to build rapport? Hmmm…

    I’m simple, and I have a conversational style I think. I value my readers, consider their time important, consider their thoughts valid. (Actually I consider everyone valuable, so this is easy.)

    What I really hope to accomplish with each post is to share a bit of story (words and/or paintings or drawings) and relate it to life. With an attitude of possibilities. And then invite them to stay long enough to share their thoughts.

    I like that bit about not allowing our readers to “trip up.” That’s why I let my writing cool, then read it with fresh eyes. I often trip over my own bumps — a word used too often, a point made that’s off-topic, a peculiar mix of pronouns — or the misuse of them as you talked about in an earlier post. I take the bumps out before pushing the Publish button. :)

    You’ve given us a great check-list. I like your easy but very efficient manner with language. Thank you.


    Barb Hartsook@OverCoffeeBlogs last blog post..How Do You Play (Work) Life?

  19. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Barb, considering everyone valuable is the key to rapport, most definitely :-) I love the idea of ‘an attitude of possibilities’… very nice. Thanks for your feedback - I’m smiling at ‘easy but efficient’. I used to be a civil servant where writing as tightly as you could was highly valued… a difficult habit to shake off ;-)