16 Overused Words and Phrases and What to Say Instead

Once upon a time, before clichés were clichés, they were colorful, inventive phrases that framed ideas in a new and interesting way. Over the years, however, they’ve been overused to the point where they’ve become stale, unoriginal, and more likely to detract from a piece of writing than add to it. In fact, clichés, overused words and phrases, and jargon can often annoy readers. They can make a writer look lazy and careless. Readers are more likely to disengage when they come across tiresome and unoriginal means of expression. As a content creator, that’s the last thing you want to happen.

In content marketing, every word is important, so you need to make sure you choose the ones that have the most impact. And that means ditching hackneyed expressions and finding new ways to get your meaning across.

Words to Live By, Words to Avoid

We’re all guilty of using clichés at some point or another, often without even realizing that we’ve done so. The reality is that once you become attuned to them, you’ll be surprised how often they turn up in your writing and everyone else’s. There are lots of ways to convey what you’re trying to say, without having to rely on the tired, old usual suspects. Here are some of the most overused words in content writing and some alternatives you can use instead.

  1. Giving 110%

Not only is this mathematically impossible, it’s an arbitrary figure. Giving it your all or going over and above is what is really meant here.

  1. Out of left field

Unexpected, surprising, erratic, and peculiar are just a few of the many adjectives that are infinitely more thought-provoking than this old baseball term.

  1. At the end of the day

Are you actually talking about the real end of the day? If it’s not taking place at 6 pm, then what you really mean is finally or ultimately.

  1. Get your ducks in a row

The sight of a mother duck leading her ducklings into a lake might be a nice one, but it doesn’t really convey the need to get organized, prepare, and get every element in place, does it?

  1. Content is king

Let’s be honest, we’ve all used this one, haven’t we? Content is an integral part of marketing, not a sovereign in and of itself. Think about what you’re actually trying to say about content, like how powerful messaging impacts customer behavior and use that instead.

  1. Get granular

If you’re not engaged in some kind of science experiment, what you mean to say is that a person needs to focus in on the fine details.

  1. Think outside the box

This is quite possibly one of the most irritating phrases used in business. It dates back to the 1970s and originally had nothing to do with a box. Use “expand your thinking,” “stretch your imagination,” or “examine from a different perspective” instead.

  1. Synergize

One of the most overused buzzwords to come out of business, synergize is also one of the most stigmatized. If you mean work together, collaborate effectively, or cooperate, then go for one those options instead.

  1. A no-brainer

It’s a no-brainer to change this tired word to “easy” or “simple” to avoid coming off as patronizing.

  1. Hit the ground running

It sounds like someone’s being chased, rather than being encouraged to seize an opportunity and start a project prepared, and at full speed.

  1. Get the ball rolling

Here’s another ball metaphor. It’s also a waste of a lot of words when you could simply say “get started” or better yet “begin.”

  1. Keep your eye on the ball

Tired of this old sporting analogy? If you mean someone should focus or pay complete attention to a thing, then that’s what you should say.

  1. On the same page

In an age of eBooks and online newspapers, people aren’t on the same page. Avoid this phrase by saying “working in harmony,” “having a shared understanding,” or “coming from the same perspective.”

  1. Bandwidth

You should only use bandwidth if you’re referring to internet usage, otherwise “capacity” is perfectly acceptable.

  1. Leverage

You’re using something to its maximum advantage, not exerting force using a lever. Overusing this one is a big pet peeve in business, so it’s definitely one to avoid.

  1. Bang for your buck

This is the kind of cliché you’d expect to hear from a used car salesman. Stick to describing how you want to achieve a better result for the effort you’ve put in.

How to Avoid Using Clichés and Overused Phrases

Think about what the phrase or expression actually means and work your way back from there. You’ll be able to identify some keywords and rewrite your sentence minus the cliché. Oxford Dictionaries has some helpful advice if you’re struggling to define the meaning. Look up the cliché in a dictionary and use the definition as a starting point to look up synonyms in a thesaurus.

Often, a cliché or over-used phrase can be directly replaced with one or two simple words. If a straightforward replacement is obvious, then make the switch. Finally, ask yourself whether your content actually needs the expression. A lot of clichés are fillers and padding. If the idea isn’t important or doesn’t add to the content, then cut it out.

Clichés will undoubtedly sneak into your content on occasion, but by being aware of them and challenging yourself to create better copy using original ideas, you’ll undoubtedly “raise the bar” (oops, there’s another one to avoid).

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