12 Most Expendable Phrases in Business Writing
Get out your red pens. It’s time to rewrite tired old phrases that need to be retired from the business world. We can start with these 12:
1. Outside the box
Don’t say this. Don’t write this. (Don’t even think this!)
There is always a better description of whatever you are trying to express with this tired, trite and useless phrase. Think about what you really mean. Is the idea creative? Fresh? Bold? Say that.
2. Low-hanging fruit
So, unless you run an orchard, you can’t really mean this, right? So, what do you mean? Easy? Obvious? Cheap? Being specific not only allows you to sidestep a cliché, it also informs your audience more completely about your intended meaning.
3. To whom it may concern
The Internet makes research so easy that people should no longer be sending correspondence to this black hole of ambiguity. Even when it’s not possible to know the name of the specific person who will be receiving the communication, using the department or title is better than nothing. Such as: “Dear customer service staff.” It just feels more personable. And you’re bound to get better attention.
4. Thanks in advance
Before being clobbered by people who think I am against gratitude — I’m not — let me clarify it’s the “in advance” that’s the problem. Just say thanks. Or thank you. Or I appreciate your help.
5. At the end of the day
Ironically, this phrase rarely means that, literally. Do you mean, instead, when the merger happens? When the project ends? You get the idea. Be clear.
No matter what business you’re in, if you’re not doing something of value, you’re not going to be in business long. This is a cop-out. Instead, spell out the benefit. Explain the attributes. Let the customer decide if there’s value in it. If there is, they’ll buy it. If there isn’t, they won’t — even if you use this jargon-y phrase on ’em.
7. Paradigm shift
This usually is supposed to refer to a new approach or technology. It can also imply a breakthrough in some other way.
Help your audience understand what’s new and why. Can you imagine Albert Einstein referring to E=mc2 as a paradigm shift? Of course not. It’s called the theory of relativity because that’s what it is. Just say what it is. (Not to be confused with, “it is what it is” — a bonus #13 phrase to avoid.)
8. Pick your brain
Nasty, nasty, nasty. Do you want a quick summary of the presentation? A detailed description of the meeting? Just say what information you seek. Leave aside the gross images, please.
If your statement is so confusing and/or convoluted that both, or either, of these words could actually work in the sentence, it’s time for a rewrite.
10. Hit the ground running
Unless you are jumping out of a plane for an ambush, use a better word or phrase, such as: perhaps, prepared or ready.
11. Win-win situation
If more than one person or group will benefit, spell it out: how and why?
12. Spend more time with my family
Even if this phrase were ever true (and it might be, occasionally) no one is going to buy it. If the next step can’t be revealed, just leave it out.
Many more of these ambiguous and overused phrases are spoken and written in offices everywhere, daily. I’d love to hear the ones you nominate to be retired, for good.
Featured image courtesy of ellenm1 licensed via Creative Commons.