So You Want to Be a Better Writer: Clichés
Maxie van Roye
Volume 21 Issue 18 2013-05-17
It’s crunch time, and you’ve been a bit overwhelmed. You’ve been burning the candle at both ends and finally your blood and sweat and tears have paid off. You don’t have delusions of grandeur, but you think that what you wrote turned out fairly well.
Ignorance is bliss . . . until the grades arrive. That’s when you discover to your horror that, despite your Herculean efforts, your essay fell flat.
That’s hard to swallow.
Whether you’re writing for business or pleasure—or it’s an academic requirement—the words you use matter. So here’s the deal. It goes without saying that spelling errors, improper grammar, and the like will create a poor impression. Almost worse, though, is when impeccable grammar is combined with heavy reliance on trite popular expressions. I hate to say this, but you may be sabotaging yourself with the overuse of clichés.
Clichés are easy to spot: they’re those tried and true expressions that everyone knows and everyone uses, because they’re usually on the tip of the tongue. The problem is, of course, that these tried and true expressions have been, well, tried. Many, many, many times—enough that their truth is no longer relevant, and now they’ve just become annoying.
Clichés, unfortunately, kill reader interest. Although you can use them to your heart’s content, you may find that despite your great ideas, no one will take you seriously. Your written work could be a diamond in the rough, but no one may ever know because they can’t make it past the first few paragraphs without cringing. In this dog-eat-dog world, where competition is high and first impressions matter, the movers and shakers are the ones who stand out. You don’t want to stand out as being intensely unoriginal.
So here’s a good rule of thumb: avoid clichés like the plague.
Maybe you’re thinking I’m making a mountain out of a molehill. But when all is said and done, I happen to know a thing or two about what readers (and editors) want—and what they don’t.
It’s time to get down to brass tacks. Learn the most common clichés, and keep them out of your writing. Clichés can spoil the flow of your piece—and obscure your thoughts, even if they’re otherwise brilliant. Find new, original ways of saying things instead of leaning on trite popular expressions.
Discouraged? Look on the bright side: if you had a dollar for every time this article used a cliché, odds are you’d end up filthy rich.
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