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In September of 1982, David Ogilvy, often regarded as the father of modern advertising, sent an internal memo to the employees of his agency.
In it, he outlined 10 tips for great writing. While these tips aren’t specific to scriptwriting, they are certainly applicable.
His wisdom on the subject is timeless.
1. Read the Roman-Raphaleson book on writing. Read it three times
Writing that Works is a well-established classic. Over the years, it’s undergone a number of revisions.
The current version even includes insights on writing emails and e-publications. Buy it. Read it. Study it.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
Dialogue can be particularly tricky. It’s surprisingly hard to write dialogue that sounds natural when spoken. The key is to craft sentences so that they mimic natural speech patterns. (Use tip #7 to test if you’ve accomplished this.)
On a side note, grammar is important, but not more important than the way people actually talk. When writing dialogue, it’s okay to bend and even break some grammatical rules. For example, proper grammar dictates you say the following: “For whom is that package intended?”
However, no one talks like that. Instead, write, “Who is that package for?” ending the sentence in a preposition. Yes, it’s technically grammatically incorrect, but it’s also how real people really talk.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs
Long, flowery sentences tend to lose people. Short, punchy sentences capture attention and help the viewer maintain focus.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmental. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass
Non-insiders simply don’t know insider words. Even if you frequently use industry related jargon internally, ditch those phrases when developing a script.
Instead, use common words that require no explanation.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject
Scripts should be short. The best marketing videos are 30-90 seconds long. They don’t require lengthy scripts.
6. Check your quotations
If citing any source, double and triple check it. Make sure your quotes are accurate before considering your script done.
Inaccurate quotes damage your credibility and professionalism. It’s worth the time to make sure all quotes are perfect.
7. Never send a letter or memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning, and then edit it
Your script will be spoken aloud when your video is shot. It’s critical you read it out loud as you revise and edit it. If there are awkward sentences, you’ll hear them immediately.
Yes, it takes more time to read a script out loud than silently, but the insight you’ll gain is invaluable.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it
Guess what? All scripts are important.
Before you consider the job done, read it out loud to someone else and get some honest feedback. Be sure to let your coworker know that, while you appreciate compliments, what you really need to know is where the script falls short.
Candid, critical feedback will help make your script even better.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do
If your goal is a call to action, and any marketing video is surely intended to lead the viewer to some kind of response, make sure the script clearly communicates the desired outcome: “Call this number.” “Go to this website.” “Sign up for this trial offer.”
Keep this part of the script simple and straightforward.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want
In a sense, this is exactly what you’re doing by opting to use video rather than text to communicate your message.
You cannot sit down face-to-face with every prospective customer and have a conversation about your product or service, but video provides you with a means to simulate real interaction.
Of course, you can’t have a video without a script. As you’re developing your script, think of it as your side of a conversation with potential buyers. Keep it personable, easy to understand and attention grabbing—just like if you were having a real conversation.
The script is the foundation for your video. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to producing a solid video that makes a real impact on your business and your bottom line.