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Avoiding Clichés in Writing: What Does It Mean, and How Do I Do It?

writing skills copywriting copyediting English

By Maeva Cifuentes

So, you’re a content manager, an inbound marketing consultant, a blogger, or simply somebody dying to be able to write effective and engaging copy, right? You’ve spent the last thirty minutes of your break brushing your lunch’s crumbs off the desk and Googling the latest writing tips. Perhaps you’ve even endeavored to take a MOOC on improving your writing skills. Meanwhile, you notice a mantra start to manifest itself: avoid clichés.

What are clichés, and how can I avoid them?

A cliché is a set of words that have been so overused, and they’re as impactful as Donald Trump’s promises to the American people. You probably use clichés every day without knowing it. When was the last time you told someone “time will tell”, or described someone as “not having a care in the world” or (my favorite) assuring someone “we’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you”? A cliché is a set sequence of words that are used habitually to convey a given statement. But there are always other ways to make these statements, and you should avoid clichés like the plague.

How can express myself without using clichés, when that’s all I can think of?

Let’s take the above cliché as an example. I’m hoping you’ve grasped my ironic use of ‘like the plague’. Yep. That’s another cliché.

What could have been a better way to demonstrate how badly I want you to avoid clichés?

Fortunately, this is no Everest-sized task. It only requires you to be slightly less lazy than you were being before.

To avoid using a cliché, you need to know its meaning. In our above example, “to avoid something like the plague,” I’m trying to persuade you to avoid using this writing technique with the same enthusiasm you’d have trying to avoid a bacterial infection that will literally kill you. Like, I want you to get a million miles away from that thing.

Solutions are easy to find and only require some creativity. What’s another thing most people might try to avoid?

Avoid clichés like your boss’s phone call on a weekend. Or, better yet, avoid clichés like politics on Thanksgiving. Avoid clichés like eye contact with an old acquaintance in the grocery store (I can personally relate to this one). Avoid clichés or face your readership’s impending ennui.

I could continue. Maybe I’m having a bit too much fun here, but so should you!

You don’t need to get this creative either. It also works to directly say what you meant instead of using the cliché. For example, I could just say “it is very important that you avoid using clichés”.

That’s not as fun or impactful though, is it?

How do I know whether I’m using a cliché or not?

Clichés have been so far crammed into our reflexes that they skulk into our writing without us even noticing. Any phrase that slipped into your writing reflexively is at risk of being a cliché. Here’s a few ones to watch out for:

  • A far cry
  • A pain in the neck
  • Against all odds
  • Beat around the bush
  • Better late than sorry
  • Dime a dozen
  • Draw the line
  • Easy as pie
  • Free as a bird
  • High and dry
  • In this day and age
  • Off the top of my head


Here’s a few links to lists of clichés in case you’re tempted memorize them lest ever use one again.

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