Is Your Copywriting Cliché?

The more copy I write, the faster I get. But sometimes the words flow a little too easily.

One morning a few weeks ago, I felt like I was on a roll, the words spilling out exactly how I wanted them to:

Focus on getting involved and being open-minded in college—trying new things creates memories and opens new doors of opportunity.

Although I expressed this college advice with sincerity in the blog post I was drafting, I quickly realized that something wasn’t quite right about the way that I expressed it.

Opens new doors of opportunity? I wondered. Staring at the words, I felt irked. Was it too corny? Cliché?

Now, this contemplation may be nit-picky, but then again, being nit-picky is part of my job as a copywriter. So I decided to follow what I consider the major rule of combating content corniness:

When in Doubt, Take it Out

Sure, “opens new doors of opportunity” has a nice ring to it. But due to overuse, there’s nothing really special about it. Taking a step back, I had to ask myself whether I’d still appreciate the sentence if it I came across it online. I decided that it was, in fact, cheesy and a little fake. And there’s no greater mistake in copywriting than alienating your readers.

All writers, experienced or inexperienced, feel tempted to use clichés sometimes. That’s because clichéd phrases come easily—even naturally—because they have an active role in our daily lexicon. But although clichés are acceptable in common speech, they make for weak professional writing.

The best written metaphors and details catch our attention because they surprise us and make us think. Adding surprise to your copy requires effort and creativity, of course, but it ultimately makes your writing much stronger.

The worst thing about clichés is how easily they sneak up on you. Avoiding clichés was one of the first things I learned as an English major in college, and as a copywriter I still have to make sure that I don’t let any tired language slip in.

Remember that clichés aren’t always blatant,  as in “you should avoid them like the plague.” Sometimes I even try to avoid Cliché’s evil twin, Clichéd Writing, which simply includes overused go-to phrases such as “you should avoid clichés at all costs.”

Just remember that whatever unique combination of words you come up is much better than any cliché phrase we’ve already heard.

 

(I used at least five other clichés or clichéd phrases in this blog post. Can you spot them?)

 

*Image provided by Tom Newby Photography on Flickr

About Karen Cover

Karen Cover is a Content Strategist for Fathom Education, a higher education marketing agency in Cleveland, Ohio. She specializes in Copywriting and Copywriter Training, Content Marketing, Branding and SEO. Karen is a Hiram College graduate and member of the Resource Council for the Lindsay-Crane Center for Writing and Literature. Follow Karen on Twitter at @KarenCover.

2 Comments

  • Hi Karen,

    That was an excellent post. As a marketer who writes copy, I’m constantly aware of my short-comings as a copywriter. And after reading your post, I’m afraid to re-read anything I’ve written of late because I’m pretty sure I know what I’ll find and I won’t like it!

    Regarding your challenge, although I’m not 100% sure exactly what a cliche is, here are my guesses for the others hiding in your post:

    on a roll
    creates new memories
    nice ring to it
    taking a step back
    no greater mistake
    sneak up on you

    Let me know how I did!

    Cheers,
    Rich

  • Karen Cover says:

    Thanks, Rich! I appreciate your response. I think that being aware of your short-comings means you’re a true writer. Your intuition is right on target—avoiding clichés has to be formed as a habit, but deciding whether any given phrase is too overused depends on how critical you are at the moment! In the end, we just can’t get complacent about the wording we choose.

    Great job on finding the sneaky clichés! And you’re right—it’s not easy to define what clichés are. They can definitely be a kind of “I know it when I see it” phenomenon. I would consider cliché writing as existing on a continuum, with “raining cats and dogs” at one end and “no greater mistake” being on the murky other end. Determining whether writing is clichéd also depends on the writing style. I think overused language is more likely to go unnoticed in blog posts like this because blogs are more informal than other types of copy.

    The only other cliché I’d take out is “evil twin,” and here are my comments on some others.

    “words flow”—I would probably second-guess this one also since words always seem to be “flowing” when you’re “on a roll

    “creates new memories”—not sure if I’d say this phrase is overused, but I’ll admit it’s a bit corny.

    “no greater mistake”—I didn’t catch this one! Good work.

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