Writing Tips From David Ogilvy – 6 Things Every Writer Should Know

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David Ogilvy once said, “I don’t know the rules of grammar … If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular.” This is not to say that bad grammar in writing is to be advocated but the wisdom of the quote is this: Write naturally and in the language your audience can relate to.

We must write in a style that our audience speaks in and will readily understand. This was a key to his becoming an advertising legend because he wrote where his clients were at. He died over 20 years ago but his writing tips will endure through time and they are as relevant as they were in 1982. Let’s look at six of his timeless writing tips.You will be a better writer if you take these tips to heart especially if you are an advertising writer.

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing three times

A classic when it was written, the Roman-Raphaelson is now in its third edition and it has been updated to help writers deal with issues in the cyber age. The book covers how to write emails quickly and efficiently and it advises on what is politically correct and what is not in writing. It will also cover how to type faster on a computer making your writing more efficient and productive.

DavidOgilvy, suggests you read the book three times. Why three times is really not known. It could be that reading the book three times will be enough to give the writer the wisdom and knowledge to write creatively and knowledgeably. It seems like Mr. Ogilvy read that very book probably more than 3 times and we can see what he accomplished in the advertising world. This is a book every aspiring writer and advertising executive should read.

It has been recorded that David Ogilvy has written nine books and out of those nine books six of them received a 70% or better 5-star rating from reviewers. Readers think highly of his books so, his tips should be taken seriously as he has been a super successful during his lifetime and an influencer for everyone in his field.

2. Write naturally as you Talk naturally

A golden rule of writing is to talk in your own voice so your readers will understand you are writing in a natural tone. But there is a limit to writing as you talk in certain circumstances. If you talk street talk naturally you will not necessarily write street talk for an academic audience. But you must find your “true” voice in academic writing and write in that vein so you can connect with your audience.

You must connect with your audience from the first sentence of your writing piece. The thoughts must be clear, compact and concise. You must capture the reader’s attention in the first paragraph of the writing and hold their attention the rest of the way through the writing.

You must write naturally as you talk but it must ring true with the audience and you should come across as an authority on the subject you are writing about. Use simple words that convey the same meaning as complicated words would reveal. Readers do not want to get bogged down in 100 alphabet words strung together. You will lose your typical writer faster than you can snap your fingers if you write in this style. Granted this style is necessary in certain legal writings though but for the most part stay away from verb age type writing.

Ryan Holiday an author and media strategist offers these tips:

“Stop thinking of it as some activity that you do,” writes Ryan Holiday. “Reading must become as natural as eating and breathing to you. It’s not something you do because you feel like it, but because it’s a reflex, a default.” His preface is that if you are a prolific reader you will become an effective writer.  He offers these three barriers that keep individuals from reading:

Time: “Carry a book with you at all times. Every time you get a second, crack it open.”

Money: “Reading is not a luxury … It’s a necessity … Books are an investment.”

Purpose: “The purpose of reading is not just raw knowledge. It’s that it is part of the human experience. It helps you find meaning, understand yourself, and makes your life better.”

You must make reading a priority or you will never become a prolific reader or a captivating writer. David Ogilvy, followed this rule faithfully as evidenced in a 1983 interview with David Letterman. David Letterman was talking about David’s latest book and said anybody who wants to be successful in the advertising field needs to read the book. Ogilvy broke his silence with these two words “damn right” which reflected his brevity in talking. This carried over into his writing and he became a writing legend in the advertising field.

3. Use short words, sentences, and paragraphs

This is as true in 2019 as it was in 1982 when David Ogilvy wrote this timeless writing tip. It will keep a reader’s attention far more when the writer writes in short words, sentences, and paragraphs. People lose focus when a thought runs on for miles and miles. Add long words and weighty sentences and you will lose the reader before they ever really become interested in what you have to write.

In today’s microwave age no one wants to spend a lot of time having to wade through superfluous writing. Your reader does not want to have to take out a dictionary to look up the meaning of every long word the writer has written. Readers want to get to the heart of the matter as soon as possible. Ogilvy, must have known what he was talking about.

He was an advertising genius that developed one of the most successful advertising agencies in the world. He did this by creating catchy, showy but simple advertising strategies. In this profession you must get to the point quickly and creatively. You must say a lot in a short space.

4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious behind.

No one wants to read an article where the writer comes off as a know-it-all and a pretentious fool. This will turn a reader off quite quickly. If you make your reader feel stupid and ignorant you will turn them off and lose them very quickly. They cannot relate to these long-winded words.

You must choose simple words that are short and have a plain meaning to the reading masses. This way you will convey to the reader that you are an everyday person writing to an everyday person. You will show the reader that you are sensitive to their reading preferences. You will also show that you regard the reader as a person who has intelligence.

If you want to sell someone something or teach them how to do something then you will have a much more receptive reader. You will also get the reader to a call to action must quicker when you use short words, sentences and paragraphs. It will be much easier for the reader to pay attention to the article and they will ingest the material better. They will retain the important points and remember what you have communicated to them. Keep it short!

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject

This is a cardinal rule of writing and that is never write more than is necessary to make your points. In any body of writing you need to write just enough to get the main theme across. If you right in a simple and logical manner your paragraphs will flow from beginning to end. You can make your point using plain but lively language. Keep the topic to the main points and choose the words that will get your meaning across as efficiently and quickly as posibble.

You will keep the reader engrossed and he will be excited to read through your writing. You can get to the point by carefully using the words you write in your article or whatever piece you are writing. People will be much more open-minded to your message if you keep the length brief but informative. 

6. Check your quotations

In 1982, David Ogilvy, was surely ahead of his time. He wrote to his staff to check their quotations that the sources were authoritative and genuine. The writer will lose credibility with his reader if he cites quotations that are bogus and plagiarized. The quotations must come from the original source and it must capture the essence of what the speaker was/is conveying.

Final Thoughts

You will find as you search the internet that David Ogilvy’s timeless writing quotes are placed all over the internet. They are widely read and used by writers worldwide. There are numerous writing tips he shared with his staff in 1982. We have covered 6 of those timeless quotes. Any inspiring writer will put their writing career on the fast track if they follow the six above discussed tips and internalize them. Put them into practice and you will greatly increase your chances of having a fabulous writing career. Look at what these tips did for David Ogilvy’s career.

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