Never write more than two pages on any subject


David Ogilvy, a man who needs no introduction, once sent a memo to all employees of his agency, entitled “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.


I came across these tips years ago. They have informed my copywriting ever since. Especially hint, or should that be instruction, number 5 on keeping it brief. You may argue that a text can never be too long, only too boring. But if any product you want to sell needs more than two pages to be explained, something may be wrong with its value proposition.

Avoiding jargon and writing like you speak is also good advice. How many of us have fallen for the temptation to litter a text with marketing speak? The list of pretentious jargon to avoid gets longer every year…  Don’t bullshit. Most people reading your stuff have good BS detectors. You will be found out. Writing using natural speech is of course a challenge because it requires the writer to understand his subject, to invest some time getting to the essence of it. I often translate texts into German, which is never a straight translation job but involves localisation and adaptation. I have found that easy “translatability” is a good measurement for a well-written text, and the texts that are easiest to translate are texts I understand at first encounter.

I would add this to the 10 hints above:

11. The rules on how to write well do apply in a social media age.

Further reading and thanks to:

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