Avoiding Clichés in Professional Communication

Clichés are lazy.

In communication writing, we should avoid using clichés. Not only are they lazy, but they also tend to take up more word space than necessary.

For example: "last but not least."

I suppose this cliché tells us when we reach the final point, and lets us know that it is just as important as the points. But really, in most communications, isn't this a given? If a point in a communication wasn't important, why would it even be there?

A better way to let the reader know they are on the final point: "finally,..."

RELATED: Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

Most popular clichés don't even make sense in modern context.

Take a cliché and think about the image it tries to convey. For instance, one might say "face the music" as a way to say "face the consequences." But in the modern world, is facing music a negative thing? Music is beautiful!

Yes, one can argue that many clichés and idioms have historical contexts. But we're writing for the modern era.

Why not just say "face the consequences?"

Other examples of common writing clichés (I borrowed a few from a Writers Digest list) and their stronger alternatives include:

  • The resources were few and far between | The resources were scarce/scattered
  • Green with envy | Envious (who actually turns green?)
  • To add insult to injury | Worse
  • Avoid like the plague | Avoid (a strong enough word already without adding something we're obviously going to avoid)
  • At the end of the day | Finally
  • Dead as a doornail | Dead (a doornail was never alive, so how can it die?)
  • Dead on arrival | Non-starter
  • Take the tiger by the tail | Take the initiative (what good would come from grabbing a tiger?
  • Think outside the box | Get creative
  • Plenty of fish in the sea | There are alternatives

Eliminating Clichés Makes Our Communication Strong, Precise, and Professional

Avoiding clichés reduces confusion. Many clichés have outdated meanings and do not translate into the modern era.

Avoiding clichés increases professionalism. It forces us to be direct and uses fewer words to make a point. This respects the intelligence and time of our audience.

Microsoft Word's Grammar Checker - Cliché Setting

Microsoft Word 2015 for Mac and 2016 for Windows has a cliché setting it the grammar settings.

For Word 2015 for Mac, go to: Preferences > Spelling & Grammar > Settings, and scroll down until you find the option to enable Clichés.

For Word 2016 for Windows, go to: File > Options > Proofing > Settings, and scroll down until you find the option to enable Clichés.

The Microsoft Word cliché checker does not catch all clichés. Indeed, of the list of clichés above, it only flagged three of them. But, it helps!

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