Burnt Toast Editorial

Writing that smokes

David Ogilvy’s 10 hints on how to write for clarity and precision.

David Ogilvy’s 10 hints on how to write for clarity and precision.

David Ogilvy CBE (1911-1999) was the doyen of advertising in America in the 1950s and 60s. Whilst his mother was Anglo-Irish, his father was a Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highlander. During the Second World War David Ogilvy worked for the British Intelligence Service at the British Embassy in Washington where he analysed and made recommendations on matters of diplomacy and security.

It was his reputation as a superb wordsmith and communicator on Madison Avenue that established him amongst his peers as the pre-eminent ad-man in America, and his ideas on effective writing and branding are still highly influential. The character of Don Draper in “Mad Men is loosely based on Ogilvy and another famous ad-man of the 1960s, Leo Burnett.

On one occasion Ogilvy crafted a memo for his employees at Ogilvy and Mather, identifying 10 “hints” on how to write for maximum clarity and precision:

“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.

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson ¹ 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 How to Communicate Effectively in Business, Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson. See: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-That-Works-Communicate-Effectively/dp/0060956437/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332602643&sr=1-1

See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Ogilvy 

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2 Comments so far

how to make a relationship betterPosted on  4:36 pm - Sep 13, 2017

Informative post, this is. It is always nice to come across a post that is useful.

http://diceview.com/he-says-i-talk-too-much-how-to-handle-this-relationship-issue/

    LalaPosted on  2:19 pm - Sep 14, 2017

    Hello Dionne. Many thanks for taking the time to comment. Ogilvy’s rules for clear writing are still the best. I often have to curb my loquacity when writing. Write, rewrite and rewrite again 🙂 Please feel free to read other postings on the site and comment. Susan.

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