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Why you should avoid cliches in your business writing

Recently I received an email from a business associate updating me on his employment situation. He wrote that he will soon be ‘rolling off’ a consulting project at ANZ.

Rolling off? I suddenly pictured him performing somersaults out of the ANZ building.

Why couldn’t he have just said “I am about to finish my contract at ANZ.”?

Clichés are common words or expressions that we use to convey meaning in business. Here are a few others you may have come across at work:

  • Think outside the box
  • Win-win situation
  • Like pulling teeth
  • At the end of the day
  • Pushing the envelope
  • Value-add
  • 24/7
  • Heads up
  • Touching base
  • Moving forward
  • Core competency
  • Integrated approach

So why do we use them in our writing? And what’s so wrong with them anyway?

We use them because we think they make us seem smart. And because we believe that they are necessary for successful communication in business.

Not true.

If you want people to take notice of what you have to say, avoid using cliches wherever possible. And when it comes to writing your website, marketing materials and advertising and PR messages? Ditch ’em altogether. Now.

Clichés have no impact. They lack originality. And they make your writing tired. Boring. Stale.

They are also dead irritating.

When you see clichés in your writing, try replacing them with simple, plain English words that precisely convey what you want to say. Challenge yourself. At first you may need to invest more time and thought. But ultimately, your writing will be brighter, clearer and more noticeable to your reader.

Let’s try it now with the first few clichés on my list above:

  • Think outside the box
    Try something new
  • Win-win situation
    Mutually beneficial
  • Like pulling teeth
    Difficult to obtain
  • At the end of the day
    When all things have been considered
  • Pushing the envelope
    Exceeding limits or expectations

Impressive sounding words won’t make you a successful communicator. Clarity and simplicity will.

What clichés do you find most irritating at work?