They’re the low-hanging fruit, the easy-pickings for writers and content creators who are loath to think outside the box.
Yes, we’re talking clichés and hackneyed language. You might just about get away with some clichés in everyday conversation, but others might make even your mates groan, let alone an internaut with an attention span of five seconds. They tend to just really grate and turn people off your content.
Clichés have a habit of popping up in B2B content in particular. After all, the business world is full of clichés, from ‘push the envelope’ to ‘think outside the box’. Yet this is one of the worst places for them to hide out, as B2B readers are usually busy and need clear language.
Whatever audience you write for, whenever you find yourself using one of those phrases – and you will, often – take a moment to consider whether you could write something better. Usually you can.
Of course there are exceptions. Sometimes that cliché just encapsulates perfectly what you’re trying to say, so you might keep it.
Other times, it might be simply too delicious to omit: “Hot cakes aren’t selling like hot cakes” went an old headline in the Independent.
But there are some phrases that deserve a mention in your style guide under a heading marked Never Ever Use. These include the likes of ‘step up to the plate’, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, ‘think outside the box’, or the aforementioned ‘sell like hotcakes’.
Beyond those classic clangers, if you’re not sure what counts as clichéd, the BBC style guide is a good place to start. It advises avoiding using phrases including: got under way, a question mark hangs over, rushed to hospital, moving the goalposts and level playing field.
Also, if you’re worried you use too many clichés in your content, then the best thing to do is to get into the habit of always going back over your writing, ruthlessly editing and improving it. Read it out loud if that helps. You’ll find yourself naturally culling any hackneyed language.