But how can you learn to write better?
Enter the timeless advice of David Ogilvy.
Despite never graduating from college, Ogilvy had a gift for the written word. At one point as a young man, Ogilvy found himself selling cooking stoves door-to-door. His employer noticed his success and asked him to write an instruction manual for the other salesmen.
Fortune magazine would go on to call it "probably the best sales manual ever written."
Ogilvy eventually earned a position as an account executive for the London advertising agency Mather & Crowther, where his older brother worked. He immigrated to the United States and in 1948 founded the agency Hewitt, Ogilvy, Benson & Mather in New York. That company eventually became Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Recently, I came across the following memo, which was posted on the official Ogilvy & Mather Twitter account. It was drafted by David Ogilvy in September, 1982, and was originally provided for management "to circulate as they saw fit."
Ogilvy's advice is timeless, so I thought I'd share it with readers here:
The better you write, the higher you will go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
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, Harper & Row, 1981] 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 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.
Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved by Ogilvy & Mather.