The Curse of the Cliché

The wandering mind is, perhaps, one of the most powerful enemies of online copy. A reader runs his eyes across all sorts of pages, flitting between multiple screens before deciding what he actually wants is a coffee.

In turn, written content must first catch someone’s attention, then hold on for dear life.


Clichéd language works against this aim, acting as a form of linguistic sludge that does little for the reader. Of course, there’s a reason why a phrase becomes clichéd – it’s well loved and feels nice on the lips. Yet, when used over and over again, it becomes drained of almost all meaning and ‘punch’. Tired of reading such predictable copy, the reader skims over the words in search of something new.

Some key offenders in marketing

Pushing the EnvelopeImage credit 
  •  Pushing the envelope
  • Thinking outside the box
  •  Giving 110%
  • But wait! There’s more!
  • ...Yes, that’s right!
  • Paradigm shift
While it can be easy to spot the blights, clichés have a tendency to continuously creep back into your writing, especially when you’re pushed for time or struggling for inspiration. So how do you keep your copy as fresh as a d-d-daffodil?

Always keep the reader in mind

What do they care about? Clichéd language has a tendency to lack any kind of practical message. For example, “Let’s take this to the next level”: where is this next level you speak of? My shoes hurt, can we take the lift? Most of these types of phrases quickly collapse under scrutiny. In turn, we should focus on writing copy that has a clear and actionable message.

Show your individuality

The world is more interesting than a bunch of clichés, which reduce its complexities to a dull, two-dimensional landscape. Tell your reader what makes you different, how you stand out from the rest. Specifics are good here – from a distance many of us look the same, it’s only close-up that we reveal the small details that can define us.

Embrace everyday language

A word of warning: in an effort to avoid clichés, it can be tempting to use deliberately obscure language. But take pains to avoid this. Not only can obscure language reduce your Google ranking, it may confuse or even bore your reader. Being creative doesn’t mean swallowing a dictionary. In fact, there is much skill involved in embracing simplicity for this requires us to reduce everything to its most basic parts – not always an easy feat. In this way, simplicity can take a surprising amount of time to get right but people will thank you for it (possibly after they’ve grabbed that coffee).

Kill Your Darlings

The English language is made up of a vast quantity of words and phrases (even ignoring the obscure ones). Yet it’s very easy to use your old-favourites time and time again, returning to them like a pair of old comfy slippers. As a result, pieces of long copy can quickly become lacklustre. One way of avoiding this tendency is to make a list of words and phrases that you love, then ban yourself from using these for a fortnight (it might be useful to list them on a post-it-note to attach to your screen). This exercise in ‘killing your darlings’ can be a great way of opening your mind to different ways of writing about common subjects.

Read more about creating great copy in Kyra's blog post, which looks at how to create and maintain a content team.

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