8 timeless writing tips from David Ogilvy

Guidance from the ‘Father of Advertising,’ first offered in the 1980s, still holds—especially those points about brevity and emphasizing a call to action.

Writing is a big part of increasing your company’s visibility.

From website copy and e-newsletters to blog posts and social media updates, your business depends on your ability to write well.

David Ogilvy (known as “The Father of Advertising”) penned a memo, “How to Write,” in 1982; it’s still a goldmine of advice. Here are eight of his writing tips:

1. “Write the way you talk. Naturally.”

Every business has a voice; yours should be a natural reflection of your brand. Every word you write—whether on your website or in a Facebook update—should reflect it.

2. “Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.”

Make everything you write easy to digest quickly. No one likes reading a wall of lengthy text; a lot of writing fails due to overly wordy text. If you have a big chunk of information you want to share, consider ways to make it easier to for your readers:

  • Use shorter words.
  • Simplify the sentences.
  • Turn the details into a bulleted list.

3. “Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of pretense.”

Make your blog posts, e-newsletters and social media updates inclusive; you want anyone to be able to read and understand it easily.

4. “Never write more than two pages on any subject.”

A college professor required that the final paper be one to two pages total, which forced us to really focus the main message. The same is true for anything you write. If you can’t write it within two pages, your message isn’t conveyed clearly and concisely.

5. “Check your quotations.”

As Abraham Lincoln said, “The problem with internet quotes is that you can’t always depend on their accuracy.” Obviously that quote is sardonic, but a major downside of having a vast trove of information at our fingertips is that details can be easily incorrectly attributed. Do your homework, and cite your sources appropriately.

6. “Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.”

Coming back with fresh eyes can help you catch embarrassing typos and spelling errors—and adjust your tone, if necessary.

7. “If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.”

It’s always good to have someone offer feedback. They can help you clarify your point and check for mistakes you overlooked.

8. “Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.”

This is the “call to action.” How do you want your readers to respond to your blog post or social media updates? Make sure your writing conveys this clearly.

A version of this post first appeared on Three Girls Media.

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