Our Blog

10 Common Business Clichés That Destroy Good Writing

Photo of an exhausted businessman working overtime in the office.
Hard truth: Business clichés weaken your writing and induce eye-rolling. (Photo: alvarez)

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

Business clichés are rampant in marketing, advertising, reports, memos, and everything else in the business world. We see them. We speak them. We write them.

Why? Because clichés make use of standard and easy-to-understand metaphors or images—often in a clever way—so people quickly understand your point.

Business clichés were fresh and meaningful once upon a time … but their best days are long behind them. By now they’ve been used over and over again.

Where Did Business Clichés Come From?

There are two versions of where the word cliché originated.

  • The first theory is that the word cliché resembles the sound made by French printing presses when lead was poured onto the matrix to make a printing plate.
  • The second theory says cliché refers to the thin metal plate used for movable type, the individual pieces in early printing presses. This plate enabled typesetters to use common words and phrases repeatedly, rather than having to painstakingly set each letter of the words.

Regardless of the origin, the message is the same: a cliché means to use the exact same words over and over again. Effective business writing should provide value throughout, not waste the reader’s time with vagueness and repetition.

Business clichés attempt to have a little fun in what is probably an otherwise formal writing situation. While trying to liven up your business writing is always a good idea, business clichés make readers roll their eyes rather than have a chuckle. Remember, your audience is there to learn from you.

Business clichés are not clever—they are overused expressions. They don’t add to your writing; they weaken it. Business clichés are usually vague and don’t say what they really mean, and you can write better than that.

Sometimes business clichés are hard to notice. They’re familiar and famous for a reason—because you’re so used to hearing them. Our proofreading and editing team at Super Copy Editors is trained to pick out the worst clichés in your writing and turn them into something better so that your message is clear and succinct. Learn more here.

Photo of an adorable yellow, fluffy baby duck surrounded by his siblings in the grass in the sunshine.
The only time you should write “Let’s get all of our ducks in a row” is when you are literally putting ducks in a row. (Photo: Kelly Nelson)

Top 10 Business Clichés to Avoid and What to Write Instead

For the sake of your readers, it’s best to avoid clichés and use something straightforward instead. Here are 10 common business clichés you should stop using.

1. Think Outside the Box

“We encourage everyone in this company to think outside the box.”

This is one of the most overused phrases in business writing. Instead, try having people think “creatively,” “differently,” or “unconventionally.”

2. A Win-Win Situation

“By purchasing this ad space, not only are you going to increase sales but we’ll also donate half the proceeds to charity. It’s a win-win situation.”

The word “situation” provides no visual image to reference, and frankly, neither does “win-win.” You’re not adding any value to the sentence. Leave it out.

3. Low-Hanging Fruit

“We need to target the older crowd because the younger target audience is low-hanging fruit.”

This phrase is a fancy way of saying a task is easy and of low priority, and it doesn’t contribute to the conversation. Try direct statements: “Let’s go after the easiest sales first.”

4. Drink the Kool-Aid

“The investors drank the Kool-Aid of our competitors, and they now buy from them.”

This is a reference to when cult leader Jim Jones persuaded more than 900 people to drink poisoned Kool-Aid, killing all of them. It has no place being referenced in the business world.

5. Take It to the Next Level

“We will take it to the next level with this new product.”

This is a vague reference that probably conjures images of Super Mario Bros. Rewrite it to specify what the next level is: “With this new product, we are aiming to double last year’s revenue.”

6. Get Our Ducks in a Row

“If we want this proposal to go well, we have to get our ducks in a row.”

This is a cliché associated with giving advice, yet it doesn’t actually give any. Offer some ideas of what the “ducks” are. Additionally, the visual image may distract readers from focusing on the task.

7. Touch Base

“Let’s touch base after you’ve had a chance to review the material.”

This is one of the most-hated business clichés of all time. There are no actual bases to touch. You’re not playing baseball. Also, most businesses prefer a degree of specificity, and “touch base” provides none.

Try saying, “I’ll follow up with an email next week,” or “I’ll call you with my answer on Monday.” Both are simpler and provide more information.

8. It Is What It Is

“We can’t change our sales slump this past month. It is what it is.”

This phrase is too flippant, redundant, and cringeworthy for business writing. It’s best to leave this one out.

9. Reinvent the Wheel

“We’ve already found a base market for our product, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here—we can simply tweak our message.”

Another one on a list of most annoying business clichés, it also doesn’t add any new information or provide any benefit. Try “We just need to tweak our message a little.”

10. Put a Pin in This/Circle Back to It

“Let’s put a pin in it … and circle back to it later.”

These two phrases are usually a way of saying something is sidelined without being rejected outright. If that’s the case, just say so. Or simply say, “We’ll revisit this at the next meeting.”

Here are many more examples of overused phrases and corporate gobbledygook—and what you should write instead:

This is a graphic titled "40 Examples of Business Clichés, Jargon, and Gobbledygook," and there are subheadings for "Instead of..." and "try writing this." And here are the examples provided:
360-degree view - Full understanding
Actionable insights - Useful information
At the end of the day - Ultimately
At this point in time - Now
Back of the envelope - Initial estimate
Bandwidth - Capacity
Behind the 8 ball - In a difficult situation
Bleeding edge - Latest technology
Build a better mousetrap - Improve
Circle back - Revisit
Customer-centric approach - Focus on our customers'  needs
Deep dive - Scrutinize
Disruptive innovation - Bold new ideas
Drill down - Analyze
Forward momentum - Progress
Forward planning - Planning
Game-changer - Radical new idea
Get our ducks in a row - Organize
Granular analysis - Detailed analysis
Headwinds - Challenges
Holistic - Comprehensive
Key learnings - Lessons
Leverage our synergies - Use our combined strengths
Low-hanging fruit - Easily achievable goals
Maximize our core competencies - Use our strongest abilities
Moving the needle - Making progress
On the same page - Agree
Out of pocket - Unavailable
Paradigm shift - Change
Peeling back the layers - Examining
Predictive analytics - Forecasting based on data
Proactive - Take action
Real-time data-driven decision-making - Making decisions based on current data
Run it up the flagpole - Get feedback
Strategic partnership - Partnership
Think outside the box - Consider new ideas
Touch base - Chat
Value-add - Benefit
Win-win situation - Mutually beneficial
Workable solution - Solution

Final Thoughts

Business clichés, jargon, and idioms usually do more harm than good in business writing.

They’re cringeworthy, induce eye-rolling, or provide no extra information to the reader. Any way you look at it, you should avoid business clichés in your writing.

While using business clichés might sound right in your head when you’re writing marketing materials or other business-related content, it’s always best to get a second opinion. At Super Copy Editors, our professional proofreaders and editors will see if your business clichés are warranted and change them if necessary. We will also check for spelling and grammatical errors and improve the tone of your content. Get a quote for your next project.

Found this helpful? Please share:

Boost Your Workday With These Tips

Get 1 ridiculously powerful writing tip or productivity hack by email, 2x per week. Perfect for marketers, agencies, and education companies. It’s free. 💪

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Hi, I’m Dave Baker, founder and copy chief of Super Copy Editors. I have more than 25 years of professional proofreading and copy editing experience, including work for The Nation magazine, The New York Times, and The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, where I shared two staff Pulitzer Prizes. At Super Copy Editors, we’re passionate about helping agencies, marketing teams, and education companies refine and polish their text to give them confidence and ensure success. Learn more here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

photo of a collection of style guides and books on advertising, marketing, and education