Posted by: wordsmithsuk | February 26, 2013

Cliches to avoid like the plague


Every year, the Buzzword report compiles a list of the overused and meaningless terms that PR people like to use in the hope of attracting journalists’ harassed-manattention and interest. But cliches and jargon usually have the opposite effect. In fact, they drive journalists crazy.  Earlier this year the report author, Hamish Thompson, asked 500 reporters and editors at national and regional newspapers, TV and radio for their examples of infuriating practice. Responses came from senior journalists at the BBC, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun, The Scotsman, The Financial Times, The Daily Mail and many more. Thompson concludes that a press release or email containing tired and meaningless terms like ‘awesome’, ‘going forward’, ‘reaching out’ or ‘heads up’ is more likely to end up in the waste bin rather than on the pages of the targeted newspaper or magazine.

Business writers can learn much from Thompson’s research. This is because readers will pay more attention to what we write if we avoid phrases like those in the following list:

  • Dynamic (likely not to be)
  • Paradigm (most people do not know what this means)
  • Elite (don’t use when referring to the best thing in Scunthorpe on a Thursday at 3pm)
  • Hotly anticipated (if reader is likely not to have heard of it)
  • End-user (use ‘customer’ instead)
  • Influencer (the person referred to is probably not)
  • Deliverables (use ‘products’ instead)
  • Icon/iconic (dated term – use before 01.01.01 or never)
  • Rocketed (don’t use  if the person or thing only made modest progress)
  • An astonishing x per cent (it rarely is astonishing)
  • Going forward (terrible cliche – use ‘in the future’)
  • Ongoing (‘a bit behind schedule’)
  • Optimised (use ‘enhanced’ or ‘improved’).

Words which are unnecessarily complex or fashionable do not make your text seem more important or impressive – they merely form a barrier between you and your readers. Wherever possible, stick to simple and familiar words. This does not mean patronising the reader by using words of one syllable, but using the most common and straightforward language to express what you want to say.

For more business writing tips check the Word Smiths’ website for details of our audio book Effective Business Writing for Success9780954886035

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