Once upon a time in the world of content creation, we had colorful, inventive phrases that expressed ideas in a new and exciting way. Today, deep into the digital age, words have become stale, unoriginal, and downright overused.
The worst part? We are all guilty.
If you are looking to attract and engage readers with a heavy dose of buzzwords and cliches, the time is now to stop. These terms - redundant, verbose, and boring - will not only make you (and your business) look lazy and careless, but they are highly likely to disengage your audience.
Today, we'll talk about overused phrases, strategies to help you avoid them, and some common examples you should be aware of.
What is an “Overused” Phrase?
An overused word, phrase, or term is one that is used so frequently that it's no longer effective or compelling.
At some point, we have all been guilty of relying on overused words and phrases to make our writing appear more intelligent for our industry. Often we don't even realize that they've become something of a literary crutch.
And yet, the fact is that overused phrases and cliches make your content harder to read, show a lazy side of writing, and limit your ability to express your message. Essentially, they defeat the goal of content creation - to engage your audience and provide value.
Why Should You Avoid Overused Phrases?
Whether you're a novelist, journalist, or website writer, you probably have a few writing patterns or trends that you lean on. While it's normal to repeat words and phrases (especially if they are industry-specific), it's beneficial to avoid clichés and weak word choices.
By continuously using the same dull language, your audience will get tired of your writing style and lose sight of your message. Your audience will tune out whenever they read an overused phrase or a cliché and consequently miss the point you're trying to make.
Overused phrases are often just “fillers'' to pad out a blog post, maintain speech flow, or both. Yes, you can easily increase the length of your blog post, but you're not, in any way, improving its general quality.
3 Strategies for Eliminating Overused Phrases
Some website writers rely on repetitive grammar and overly complex sentences because they believe they can't enhance their writing in any other way. Here are some strategies for eliminating this bad habit and improving your writing.
1. Outline Your Content
A content outline is a breakdown of the topic that you want to write about. Your outline will enable you to choose the correct vocabulary (lexis) and tone while helping you align your concepts for a more effective and cohesive approach to blog writing.
Content outlines help eliminate fluff and empower you to only write about the things that matter. Writers who don't outline their content tend to ramble along and fail to follow their original idea.
Here are the fundamental steps for creating a content outline:
- Decide on a topic - What is it that you want to write about for your website? Ensure that it's a topic that people will be interested in and unique enough to generate attention.
- Develop your talking points - Brainstorm a list of topics that you'll tackle. Write down your thoughts even if the connections to the topic are loose. Write sentences or paste links that support your thesis.
- Organize your ideas - The next step is to organize your ideas so you'll have a logical flow. Also, make sure you remove any ideas that are too far-fetched or don't support the topic at hand. This step will help you develop a structure that makes it easy for your audience to understand the purpose of the piece.
- Expand your talking points - This is where you conduct some supporting research. Launch your favorite search engine and find three to five supporting and authoritative links for each topic.
- Review your outline - The final step in the process is to review your outline. Ensure that your topic matches your theme, brand tone, editorial guidelines, and audience's expectations.
Outlines empower you to stay on topic and utilize compelling language. These content planning tools should help get you started.
2. Focus on Identifying and Removing Fluff
What is fluff in writing?
Fluff means general information or details that don't add value to your content. Another approach to eliminating unoriginal expressions is identifying fluff and getting rid of them without losing intent or meaning.
Here are several ways to identify and remove fluff in writing:
If you need to look up the meaning of a word in a dictionary, don't use it. You need to engage your audience, not show how vast your vocabulary is. Be clear and direct with your readers.
When you use a word or phrase specific to a particular profession, industry, or group, you're using jargon. Depending on your audience, jargon can hurt the clarity and impact of your content.
You can remove these altogether from your piece, and it won't change a single thing. Fillers that you should avoid include: really, even, such, just, that, and quite.
They are beneficial for describing something, but it's a big no-no if you use them to make something sound too good to be true. For instance, you should avoid expressions like “incredible” and “amazing.” Using too many objectives can affect your content's credibility.
These are used to emphasize other words to make them stronger or weaker. Words like very, really, and extremely are often unnecessary and can be replaced by better alternatives.
3. Edit and Revise
Everyone should edit and revise their work. Write your first draft and analyze everything that you've written. Decide whether you need to remove a particular word, phrase, or expression.
Can you still make the same point without it? Identify the fluff, clichés, and slang words, and eliminate them. Replace the overused ones with simple synonyms.
Then, check it again. And again.
It's easy to overuse certain phrases, and sometimes, you can't avoid it. By editing and revising your copy, you can easily catch all the tired phrases and clichés, take a mental note, and avoid them in the future.
While there are a few great grammar tools that can help in this respect, Grammarly is our favorite. Its engagement suggestions can help you identify less than ideal words and replace them with stronger choices.
10 Examples of Overused Words and Phrases
Now, let's look at some of the stalest language around, as well as some suggested alternatives. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it should give you an idea of how using these phrases can degrade your content's quality.
1. In terms of
Everyone likes to use this phrase because it helps them sound more academic. This phrase is a filler, and it's best to remove it.
What to use instead: Use a single preposition to replace this phrase.
2. Due to the fact that
If you have to use “due to the fact that,” your content is in trouble. Did you mean because? This phrase is too wordy and a waste of time for readers. Due to can be used after a linking verb but otherwise avoid or use an alternative expression below.
What to use instead: Therefore, thus, hence, because, because of this
3. Needless to say
This expression means “it is assumed” and refers to something self-evident. Again, this is one expression that you can altogether avoid.
What to use instead: The clue is in the word itself - it doesn't need to be said.
4. At the end of the day
This phrase's origin is an idiom. This means that it's less appropriate for use in formal writing. Also, do you really need a six-word cliché to express the notion that you should take everything into consideration?
What to use instead: Ultimately, eventually
5. Basically / Essentially
These come in handy when you don't know how to start a sentence. However, they seldom add anything useful to the sentence and are unnecessary most of the time.
What to use instead: Try removing them altogether.
6. In this day and age
Here's another cliché that's too wordy and redundant. We suggest that you check a thesaurus for synonyms.
What to use instead: Today, nowadays
Important is one of the most hackneyed words in writing. The meaning of the word is too general and vague. Just how important is it? Is it urgent? Or is it merely notable?
What to use instead: Essential, significant, meaningful, influential, crucial
8. All walks of life and other clichés
Calm before the storm, in the same boat, never a dull moment, etc., are other examples of tired sayings. This type of journalistic terminology is stale and unoriginal and is used to pad content. Often, it's easily replaceable with a one-word alternative.
What to use instead: Remove or replace them with a simpler alternative.
9. Very / really / quite / incredibly
These are intensifiers, but they rarely influence the impact or definition of the piece. If it's an option, try removing them.
What to use instead: Instead of saying “she's very pretty,” you can say “she's stunning.”
Is the speaker literally on fire? Is the person literally hanging on for his dear life? Literally is one of the most misused words of all time.
What to use instead: It's better to avoid the word altogether.
Level Up Your Writing by Eliminating Overused Phrases
Overused words, phrases, and clichés will undoubtedly sneak into your content. It’s just a fact of life when it comes to the process of developing compelling content. And yet, by being mindful and challenging yourself to avoid the misuse of them, you will quickly “raise the bar” for your content (there’s another phrase to avoid).