20 principles, Art of Good Writing – Part II



This in continuation of my previous post writing has become more critical that ever. When you write, try to leave out all the parts readers will skip. Make it simple, memorable, inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.

This is a continuation of 20 principles, Art of Good Writing – Part I, which discussed points 1 – 10 of this article. Please read it for a clear understanding.

11. Do not overwrite or overstate

No more words than necessary. Take the time to boil down your points. I used to feel that using words like “really”, “actually”, or “extremely” made writing more forceful. It doesn’t. They only get in the way

Remember the story of the man who apologized for writing such a long letter, explaining that he just didn’t have the time to write a short one.

The Gettysburg Address (a speech by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, considered one of the greatest speech known in the American history) used only 266 words.

The Addess


12. Come to the point

Churchill could have said, “The position in regard to France is very serious.” What he did say was, “The news from France is bad.”

Don’t beat around the bush. Say what you think – in simple, declarative sentences. Write confidently.


13. State things as simply as you can

Use familiar words and uncomplicated sentences.

Think, think. think! If you cannot think well you cannot write well.


14. Handle numbers consistently

Newspapers generally spell out numbers for ten and under, use numerals for 11 and up.

Don’t write M when you mean a Thousand, or MM when you mean A Million. The reader may not know this code. Write $5,000 and not $5M. Write $7,000,000 (or $7 million) – not $7MM.

15. Avoid needless words

The songwriter wrote, “Softly as in a morning sunrise” – and Ring Lardner explained that this was as opposed to a late afternoon or evening sunrise. Poetic license may be granted for a song, but not for phrases like these:

Don’t write Do Write
Advance plan
Take action
Have a discussion
Hold a meeting
Study in depth
New innovations
Consensus of opinion
At the present time
Until such time as
In the majority of instances
On a local basis
Basically unaware of
In the area of
At management level
With regard to
In connection with
In view of
In the event of
For the purpose of
On the basis of
Despite the fact that
In the majority of instances
Did not know
By management
About, concerning
Of, in, on
By, from

Always go through your first draft once with the sole purpose of deleting all unnecessary words, phrases, and sentences. David Ogilvy has improved many pieces of writing by deleting entire paragraphs, and sometimes even whole pages.


16. Be concise, but readable

Terseness is a virtue, if not carried to extremes. Don’t leave out words. Write full sentences, and make them count.


17. Be brief, simple and natural

  • Don’t write, “The reasons are fourfold.” Write, “There are four reasons.”
  • Don’t start sentences with “importantly.” Write, “The important point is…”
  • Don’t write “hopefully” when you mean “I hope that.” “Hopefully” means “in a hopeful manner.” Its common misuse annoys a great many literate people.
  • Never use the word “basically.” It can always be deleted. It is a basically useless word.
  • Avoid the hostile term “against,” as in “This campaign goes against teenagers.” You are not against teenagers. On the contrary, you want them to buy your product. Write, “This campaign addresses teenagers,” or “This campaign is aimed at teenagers.”

18. Don’t write like a lawyer or a bureaucrat

“Re” is legalese meaning “in the matter of,” and is never necessary.
The slash – as in and/or – is bureaucratize. Don’t write, “We’ll hold the meeting on Monday and/or Tuesday.” Write, “We’ll hold the meeting on Monday or Tuesday – or both days, if necessary.”


19. Never be content with your first draft

Rewrite, with an eye toward simplifying and clarifying. Rearrange. Revise. Above all, Cut. When you write, words to keep in mind are- needless, brief, concise,  draft and interest . Think well, because if you cannot think well you cannot write well.

Mark Twain said that writers should strike out every third word on principle. “You have no idea what vigour it adds to your style.”

For every major document, let time elapse between your first and second drafts – at least overnight. Then come at it with a questioning eye and a ruthless attitude.

The five examples that follow were taken from a single presentation. They show how editing shortened, sharpened, and clarified what the writer was trying to say.

First Draft Second Draft, Much Better
Consumer perception of the brand changed very positively. Consumer perception of the brand improved.
Generate promotion interest through high levels of advertising spending. Use heavy advertising to stimulate interest in promotions.
Move from product advertising to an educational campaign, one that would instruct viewers on such things as… Move from product advertising to an educational campaign on such subjects as…
Using the resources of Ogilvy & Mather in Europe, in addition to our Chicago office, we have been able to provide the company with media alternatives they had previously been unaware of. Ogilvy & Mather offices in Europe and Chicago showed the company media alternatives that it hadn’t known about.
Based on their small budget, we have developed a media plan which is based on efficiency in reaching the target audience. We developed a media plan that increases the efficiency of the small budget by focusing on prospects.


20. Have somebody else look over your draft

All O&M advertising copy is reviewed many times, even though it is written by professional writers. Before David Ogilvy makes a speech, he submits a draft to his partners for editing and comment.

What you write represents the agency as much as an advertisement by a creative director or a speech by a chairman. They solicit advice. Why not you?

Read : 20 principles, Art of Good Writing – Part I



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