Ten Tips on Writing from David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy

In 1985, advertising man David Ogilvy predicted 13 changes we will see in the ad business. A man who enjoyed his work, Ogilvy was fond of list making. Three years before making those predictions, he sent an internal memo to all employees titled How to Write.

The memo is part of a collection of Unpublished David Ogilvy that includes memos, letters and notes the ad man wrote over the years and spells out his core beliefs on writing in pity form. It says:

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.

Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.

Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

  6. Check your quotations.

  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.

  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.

  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.

    1. David

Bottom line, good writing is not a natural gift. We have to earn it by working on the craft. In addition to Unpublished David Ogilvy see also his books On Advertising, and Confessions of an Advertising Man.


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