Wednesday, January 16, 2013

David Ogilvy's Tips to Improve Your Writing

I stumbled upon a man by the name of David Ogilvy.  He is said to be the father of advertising.  He was one of those 1950-1960 ad executives portrayed on television.  He sent this memo to his employees to try to improve their writing.  It was probably for his sake as the reader as much as for their sake as a writer.  You can find this and more from Ogilvy in an out of print edition of The Unpublished David Ogilvy.  

He says that good writing is not a natural gift and we must practice to write well.  That's reassuring to everyone, like me, who is striving to be a better writer.  Also, I wish people still used the word woolly.  See below.

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 (Writing That Works; How to Communicate Effectively In Business book). 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, demassificationattitudinally, 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. Great advice. #4 makes me laugh, because I can remember in one job where we stuffed as many buzzword as we could into things like grant proposals. It seemed to work; we were well-funded.

    1. I'd say most legal/business writing I read violates at least three of these rules.