Chris Blattman

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How to write like a Mad Man

Advice from David Ogilvy, the advertising executive and inspiration for the “Mad Men” of TV fame.

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.


From Letters of Note, via Brain Pickings.

I have not read the Roman-Raphaelson book, but it has just been downloaded to the Kindle.

Here are the books I recommend to my students on writing.

I also have advice on how to write an essay.

3 Responses

  1. If Ogilvy’s book is available, download that too. Confessions of an Advertising Man.

    That, Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle make up the best trio of management books yet written.

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