Monday, December 08, 2008

Editing Tip of the Week: Cliches to Nip in the Bud

Last week’s tip was about choosing words carefully, and cited five words to look for that tend to clutter sentences. But sometimes it’s not just a pesky extra word that threatens the quality of your writing. Sometimes overused phrases creep in your sentences. It is easy to fall back on clichés when you’re writing. One reason is that they work, for the most part. But how do you avoid using clichés when they are right at your fingertips?

Remember that you are writing something original, a piece that should display your unique writing style. Inserting cliched phrases like smooth as silk, sweet as a rose, or the ultimate it was a cold, dark night only diminishes the outstanding writing you’re capable of.

There are also overused phrases that are nonsensical, but due to their constant use, have become bad clichés. One example is staring blindly in the face. Although this is used often, it doesn’t mean it’s a good choice. Another one that newspaper journalists use all the time to conclude their reporting is the outcome remains to be seen. This not only states the obvious but reveals lazy writing. It’s the equivalent to ending a story with the cliché that it was all a dream.

When you read through your work for grammatical errors and unnecessary words, you should also check for clichés. If you stumble upon one, take time to think of a more original description. There is nothing wrong with reaching in your back pocket for a cliché now and then, but keep in mind that if you’ve heard it all before, it’s been read all before.

Dave Stein at mentioned The Cliché Finder at to hunt down cliches. If you have a suspicion that you’re using clichés, use this as a way to check your writing.

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