Tips on Writing from David Ogilvy

How is your new year’s resolution to read more and write better holding up? Have keep your commitment to blog more?

Here is some advice on writing from one of modern history’s most legendary writers, David Ogilvy. Ogilvy who founded the advertising agency that still bears his name is the original “Mad Man.”  . He is widely hailed as “The Father of Advertising.” In 1962, Time called him “the most sought-after wizard in today’s advertising industry.”

His advice on writing is priceless and pricelessly uncompromising.

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

  1. The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People, who think well, write well.
  2. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
  3. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
  4. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing . Read it three times.
  5. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  6. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  7. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  8. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  9. Check your quotations.
  10. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  11. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  12. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  13. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.


This, and much more of Ogilvy’s timeless advice, can be found in The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners. The book is long out of print, but you can snag a copy with some rummaging through Amazon’s second-hand copies or your favourite used book-store.

David Ogilvy