Jamie Harper

Jamie Harper

Spend days duking it out with synonyms, sometimes for global brands.

Why your writing isn’t finished when you think it is


Great writing will set you apart.

Great writing will set your business apart.

Worth getting it right then.

The trouble is we live in a world that demands immediacy. Millions of words are printed, published and emailed every single hour. But here’s the thing. Making your words stand out is about moving slower, not faster.

Words of wisdom from David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy is a name you might recognise. Born in 1911 he became the most revered advertising copywriter ever. In 1948 he founded Ogilvy & Mather, an advertising agency that is still huge. Ogilvy’s principles of good writing are still widely preached today.

On September 7th 1982, Ogilvy sent an internal memo to his employees. It opened with a simple piece of advice for his staff:

“The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.”

Ogilvy then offered ten tips to point his staff along the path to better writing. Among them was this nugget of wisdom:

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

It would be interesting to see how Ogilvy rationalised that piece of advice in the digital age of email and instant messaging. Yet it’s a tip that remains watertight for other forms of writing. Your blog posts, for example. Or your classified ad. Or the ABOUT US page on your website.

Don’t rely on your eyes. Sometimes you can’t trust them.

Eyes are funny old things. Sometimes they see what you think is there, not what’s actually there. That’s especially true when you have been working on a piece of writing. When you try to proof a document you have been working on as soon as you think it’s finished, you don’t spot the typos. You don’t spot the grammatical errors. Your eyes just read what you think you’ve written.

That’s dangerous. Typos and grammar monsters suck. They damage your credibility as a writer; they damage your credibility as a business. There are way too many pedants out there to take the risk. Besides, you want your message to be as sharp as possible, don’t you?

» People don’t understand your writing. It takes balls to fix it.

Think your writing is ready? Step as far away as possible.

Like Ogilvy said, wait until the next day before doing anything. It gives your brain time to readjust and means that, when you go back to edit, your eyes will be fresh enough to spot any errors. If it’s important, it can wait a day.

Boss barking at you? Got a print deadline? Okay. If you can’t wait a day to edit your document, get away from your desk and do something completely different before you submit anything. Make a cuppa for your colleagues. Do some Sudoku. Engage your brain with something different.

Get away from the document for as long as you can. Then go back and edit. And if it’s important - which it is - get a friend/colleague to give it the once over too. (Hey, our copywriters can help.)

Final thought: while most people under-edit their work, don’t fall into the trap of editing yourself into a frenzy. Your words have to fly the nest at some point. If you feel you have done your best - and you have given yourself some distance from your document before editing - then it’s done. Trust in your ability. Move on.

Make your dent in the www. Hire our copywriters.

Jamie Harper

London Design Works.

Communication pervert with BA (Hons) in English Language Studies and 1.25 million words in the portfolio. Spend days duking it out with synonyms, sometimes for global brands. Spend downtime wondering what kind of hands the person who invented shrink wrap has.

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