Rudolf Flesch is best known for the Flesch-Kinkaid readability tests, so popular you can enable them in Word. But Rudolf’s lesser-known human interest formula, published in The Art of Readable Writing in 1949, provides wise advice for today’s burgeoning online publishers.

This prolific author on reading and writing can also help you write more engaging content. Rudolf’s advice, backed by research, can be summed up in two words: get personal.

Personal words

He advises us to use gender-specific pronouns, such as his or her and words like actress, Jim or father, some no longer welcome in our politically correct world.

While I’m glad the days of assuming everyone who can read is a he, politically correct writing is often dry and awkward. So let’s keep looking ways to be politically correct and personal. For example, in longer content, I often alternate between he and she.

Rudolf also encourages the use of people and folks. Do you hear that, all you people who refer to me and other readers as users, customers or (choke) stakeholders. Right on, Rudolf. You engage by writing to individuals, not for a faceless group.

Personal sentences

In his formula, Rudolf also calculated the percentage of personal sentences. They include:

  • quoted dialogue
  • questions, commands and request addressed to the reader
  • exclamations
  • and incomplete sentences, where the reader can infer the full meaning.

Let me stress that this advice was taken to heart by print journalists, dramatically raising the interest levels of magazines and newspapers. Now that so many people are publishers, we need to heed this timeless advice.

Because of his emphasis on plain language and short sentences in his well-known tests, I’ve been a Flesch fan for a long time. I was delighted to discover that he also recommended people “write like they speak.” I must have channeled his spirit when I was writing Write Like You Talk Only Better.

Because of political correctness, I’m not going to put my copy through his test. Besides, I’m too lazy for unautomated calculations. Check here if you want to try.

But I am going to encourage everyone to follow Rudolf’s advice’s to get personal.

And to enjoy his vintage infographic.

write personally to engage

Place a straight edge on the left scale indicating the percentage of personal words. Place the other end on the right scale indicating the percentage of personal sentences. The intersection on the middle scale will show the Human Interest factor.

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Getting personal still engages readers

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