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