Clichés: The serial killers of good writing

August 30, 2011

Earlier this summer, marketing consultant Chris Brogan wrote a great blog post about whittling down your business value to one perfect sentence. In the comment section of that post, a couple hundred of Brogan's readers shared their sentences and critiqued those of others. PR pros have to give that kind of feedback to clients striving for succinct ways to sell themselves.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” But how do you do that? In writing about technology in particular, too many companies approach this task by calling on the same words and phrases everyone else uses. If clichés don't exactly kill the truth, they muddle it enough to make it unappealing.

On the path toward creating one sentence that means everything to your prospects, keep an eye out for these repeat offenders of good writing:

  • Leading (as in “a leading provider of…”)
  • Mission-critical
  • Robust
  • Value-add
  • 24/7
  • Out-of-the-box
  • Best practices
  • Cutting-edge

Beyond this short list, you can test your prose against a cliché finder to make sure you haven't let trite wording slip into your copy. When you spot a cliché, hit the delete key. Of course, that leaves you with a gaping hole where your cliché once sat, and filling that hole is harder than creating it.

Hemingway, in addition to his one-perfect-sentence tip, advocated that people, “Write drunk; edit sober.” Short of that tempting approach, brainstorming can help writers replace empty words with potent ones. Grab a thesaurus, create a mind map, doodle images, or free write for 10 minutes without stopping or editing yourself. Let the process be messy, so long as the outcome freshly expresses who you are, what you offer and why buyers should care.

Want to add a tired cliché to our no-no list? Let us know which phrases you'd like to see erased from your industry.

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