Time-worn phrases give your writing a boring tone that lacks originality.


Corporate writing is laced with such expressions as win-win, team effort, paradigm shift, and game changer. As a reader, you wonder, is the writer really that dull?

Cliches are expressions that encapsulate a situation in a few words (worst nightmare, labor of love). They have a meaning, perhaps even an image (like two peas in a pod, low-hanging fruit), and when they were first introduced, these phrases were fresh. But after decades, even centuries, of use, the phrases are stale, and the meanings of many of them are vague. Having seen them thousands of times, readers cringe.

Consider these few from the hundreds in the language:

  • Uphill battle
  • Leading edge
  • In the final analysis
  • The bottom line
  • No-win situation
  • Whole new ballgame
  • ramp up
  • a deep dive
  • step up to the plate
  • back on track
  • take it to the next level

Refrain from reaching for one of these familiar phrases, thinking it’s a catchy way to add color. It doesn’t. It’s really a lazy substitute for thinking, and it drains your writing of the freshness and personality that make you sound authentic. You don’t need to come up with a clever, creative alternative; just use plain English. Rather than say a program came to a screeching halt, just say it ended abruptly. Instead of going back to the drawing board, make it, We need to start over.

In a world crowded with sales pitches and social media rants, readers today want authenticity. There’s nothing wrong with a conversational tone that reflects the real you.


For more resources to help you become a powerful and more confident writer, please visit my Writing Resource Library.

Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available at here at Amazon.com.

Related Articles:

Why Buzzwords Are Not Persuasive

Dumping Cliches is a Win-Win for You and the Reader

Writing Advice: Ask for Explanation


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