David Ogilvy On Good Writing

Derrick DayeDecember 25, 20122281 min

On September 7th, 1982, David Ogilvy sent the following internal to all agency employees, titled “How to Write”:

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.


Discover more of David’s thinking in this now rare book: The Unpublished David Ogilvy.

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One comment

  • George Oxbow

    December 26, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Obviously, what can be said simply ought to be said simply. But Ogilvy appears to go beyond that to prohibit attempting to say anything that cannot be said simply. These restrictions make it impossible to say anything that isn’t already known and established.

    That’s fine for writing advertising copy, but making it a universal law of business communications is lethal to innovation.

    To innovate, one must think differently, and thinking differently — especially if one is thinking collaboratively — requires unfamiliar formulations and/or unfamiliar vocabulary and/or space to explain.

    Not everyone likes mucking about with new ways to think and wrestling with new language. That is fine. But if you can’t take the heat, the smart thing to do is to get out of the kitchen. Don’t demand that everyone turn down the burners!

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