What is a Cliche? And Why Should You Avoid Them?

What is a Cliché?

A cliché is a tired, stale phrase or idiom that, because of overuse, has lost its impact. What was once a fresh way of looking at something has become a weak prop for writing that feels unimaginative and dull. Clichés are what you write when you don’t have the energy or inspiration to think of a new way to express an idea.

George Orwell in his Rules of Writing said: "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print." Be creative and come up with something fresh. A new analogy or metaphor will make much more of an impression on your readers than a dusty old cliché.

Sometimes clichés are so inherent in our vernacular though that they appear in our content without thought. How many times have you relied on any of the following phrases, whether in conversations or in your writing:

  • Read between the lines
  • Play your cards right
  • It’s an uphill battle
  • Better safe than sorry
  • You can’t judge a book by its cover
  • Bring to the table
  • Low hanging fruit
  • The grass is always greener on the other side
  • Ignorance is bliss

These are a few of the tried and true (there’s another one) clichés that wiggle into our work, but add nothing to our conversations. Time and again (cliché), we resort to a cliché instead of stretching to find our own unique voice. For more, check out our comprehensive list of cliches.

That said, writers often use clichés in their first drafts and that’s fine. Taking the time to think of a better metaphor can interrupt writing flow. When you switch to editing mode, go back to those clichés and brainstorm for inventive new ideas. A good writer may create and reject over a dozen images before finding the right one, so don’t worry if it takes you a while.

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How to Find The Clichés That Have Crept into Your Writing

So how can you tell when you’re using a cliché? One method is to slowly read your work out loud and try to develop mental pictures of your content. Are your points specific and clear, or do some ideas appear vague? If so, you might have used a cliché.

Another technique is to analyze each sentence to see if what you wrote is likely to have appeared in anyone else’s work. Since no one has the same experiences as you, your work should express your unique voice and your individual thoughts. And sometimes we resort to clichés when we haven’t researched our subjects thoroughly enough to be original.

We think the best way to detect clichés in your writing and avoid “cliché creep” is by using ProWritingAid’s (free) Cliché Check report. The report will analyze your content and find those phrases that you might not have even realized were clichés. By running each piece of work through the ProWritingAid platform, you’ll learn to recognize clichés as you write them so that you can go back and replace it with something unique.

Common Questions about Cliches

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