Be a Better Writer by Avoiding Cliches

essay on laptop

Be a better writer by avoiding the things that can spoil your writing. Suppose you have written an essay. You’ve taken the time to check your spelling, subject and verb agreement, paragraphing, and other pointers that have made you proud. However, a friend proofreading your work shakes his head and tells you it’s filled with cliches.

Woman surprised

 “Filled with what?!” you exclaim.

You’ve heard of cliches, vaguely. But you want to know how your paper could be filled with them. Moreover, you want to know how you can rectify the problem so that you can submit your essay.

Sears explains that a “cliche is a worn-out expression, one you’ve heard over and over, or time and time again, or a thousand times before . . . but by now . . . it’s lost its pizzazz and so doesn’t add any spice to your writing” (256-57).

If you want to be a better writer, you will want to keep the pizzazz and spice in your writing. Thoroughly understand the damage cliches can do to your work by not paying attention when they may have crept into your writing.

Let’s study cliches a bit closer. You will probably recognize some of them. Here are a few examples of them in italics:

*Oliver is so kind, he’ll give you the shirt off his back.

I wasn’t doing much today, just kicking the can down the road.

Angry toddler

Since the toddler didn’t get the toy she wanted, she threw a hissy fit.

Her stare was cold as ice.

His bald head was as smooth as a baby’s bottom.

Lenny didn’t stay out late for fear his wife would put him in the doghouse.

I knew it was only a matter of time before the situation would rear its ugly head.

Let’s rewrite the sentences to eliminate the cliches.

In this way, we make the sentences more telling, that is, we get a clearer, more original picture of the situation. 

Oliver gives large monetary contributions to his favorite charity.

I wasn’t doing much today, just submitted my essay.

Her stare was unrelenting.

His bald head was glassy in the bright light.

Lenny didn’t stay out late for fear of upsetting his wife.

I knew it was only a matter of time before the situation would become thorny.

*Note that I deleted the phrase is so kind regarding Oliver. This is because Oliver’s contributions indicate that he’s kind. Oliver is so kind would be redundant and therefore unnecessary.

If you’re unsure that you’re using a cliche, choose another phrase. There are many ways to construct a great sentence without a cliche. Strive for originality. Kick your imagination into high gear.

Be a Better Writer by
Knowing When You Can Use Cliches

Cliche book

Image: Canva and Dream by Wombo

It’s important to learn to spot cliches. Sometimes it is hard to do so. But if one or two do creep into your writing, it’s not the end of the world. (Did you notice the cliche: it’s not the end of the world?)

According to Sears, there are times when you can use cliches. She explains that it “is permissible to use cliches in academic writing if you are quoting someone. You must quote the dialogue exactly in such a case” (257).

There is another time when it is permissible to use cliches. It depends on your tone in writing. 

Remember that cliches have no place in academic writing; however, if your style allows you to use a cliche in a humorous way, feel free to add one from time to time (Sears).

The key here is that you can use a cliche from time to time. It’s understood that it is used in a humorous tone. If your paper is peppered with cliches, it will diminish the quality of your writing. Just sayin’.

Here are a few more cliches to avoid, except for the occasional one, but not in academic writing. Learn to spot them. Some are humorous.

Isn’t that a kick in the head?

Hold the phone.

Here today and gone tomorrow.

Penny wise and pound foolish.

Pouring salt in a wound.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Bird in hand

Preaching to the choir.

Going in one ear and out the other.

Beauty is as beauty does.

Swatting flies with a hammer.

Of course, you’ll be able to think of many more. And not only that, you’ll find yourself saying them because we’ve all grown up using them. But now you can pay strict attention to them. You will be a better writer by understanding cliches and knowing when and when not to use them as you progress along your writing journey.

Unless indicated otherwise, all images: Dream by Wombo

Sears, Kathleen. Grammar 101: From Split Infinitives to Dangling Participles, an Essential Guide to Understanding Grammar. Adams Media, 2017.