Why Avoiding Clichés in Business Writing Is So Important

The only time you should write "Let's get all of our ducks in a row" is when you are literally putting your ducks in a row. (Photo: Kelly Nelson)
The only time you should write “Let’s get all of our ducks in a row” is when you are literally putting your ducks in a row. (Photo: Kelly Nelson)

If you’ve been relying on the same overused phrases in your business reports, it’s time to start hitting the “Delete” key.

Clichés are rampant in the business world. We hear them, we speak them, and we write them.

Why? Because clichés make use of metaphors or images—often in a clever way—so that people quickly understand.

The truth is, clichés might have been fresh and meaningful once. However, they are not fresh now, and they can muddy your points. If you want to write business copy that is powerful and effective, the first rule is: Go simple.

When you proofread your work, look carefully for business jargon or clichés. See if your meaning is still clear if you delete those words. Clichés can be empty fillers that add nothing to your meaning. If you feel you do need the expression to make your point, think of a way to restate it. Use a thesaurus for ideas.

Top 10 Business Phrases to Avoid

I’ve put together a short list of common business clichés along with suggestions for removing them from your writing.

  1. At the end of the day: At the end of the day, it is the supervisor who must make the decision. (Try replacing the phrase with “ultimately” or “finally,” or simply leave it out: It is the supervisor who must make the decision.)
  2. It is what it is: We can’t change what has happened with our sales slump month. It is what it is. (This phrase is redundant and cringe-worthy. Delete it.)
  3. Take it to the next level: The company will take it to the next level with this product launch. (Rewrite the sentence with new language that tells the reader more: With this new product, the company will meet and exceed its goals for the fiscal year.)
  4. Win-win situation: By purchasing an ad, you will help support a nonprofit and also gain new customers. It’s a win-win for everyone. (Your meaning stays exactly the same if you ditch this cliché.)
  5. Think outside the box: We encourage everyone in this company to think outside the box. (Who in the business world hasn’t heard this one? I’d argue that using this tired phrase shows you don’t actually think outside the box. Try “creatively,” “differently,” or “unconventionally.”)
  6. Touch base: Let’s touch base after you’ve had a chance to review the material. (Try one of these: I’ll call you next week or I’ll follow up with you on Monday. Yes, it’s much simpler, but you’re not a baseball player; there are no bases to touch.)
  7. Hit the ground running: Her experience as vice president lets her hit the ground running as the company’s new CEO. (Rephrase this sentence. Her experience as vice president means she’ll have a smooth transition as the company’s new CEO.)
  8. A no-brainer: Our manual makes using this new software for the first time a no-brainer. (Try “easy” or “simple,” or rewrite the sentence.)
  9. Reinvent the wheel: We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here; we can build on our past. (This one doesn’t add anything fresh to your meaning. Don’t use it.)
  10. 24/7: Our customer service center is ready to meet your needs 24/7. (This phrase probably sounded clever long ago. Lose it. Our 24-hour customer service center is ready to meet your needs.)

This list of business-writing clichés that should be banned is certainly not exhaustive. Leave a comment below and tell me which ones top your list.

And Now, Some Trivia

The word “cliché” comes from the French printing industry. Some historians claim it was the sound, or click, made when lead was poured on the matrix to make a printing plate.

The French dictionary Le Petit Robert says the word refers to the thin metal plate used for movable type. This plate enabled some words and phrases to be used over and over again rather than set painstakingly letter by letter.

Whichever definition is correct, French poet Gérard de Nerval makes the accepted meaning of the word clear with this statement: “The first man who compared a woman to a rose was a poet; the second, an imbecile.”

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