Here are three tips you can apply to improve your prose right now.
1. Excise “at the end of the day…”
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How many times have you seen this phrase, “at the end of the day,” used to introduce a summary, or preface an important point, often with resignation? “at the end of the day” is a classic example of “throat clearing,” where a writer uses a phrase to work up to their main point. The phrase has been so overused in speech and in print it’s become a cliché. In the spirit of “omitting needless words,” excise “at the end of the day” from your speech and writing. Get straight to the point. Readers and listeners will appreciate your respect for their time and attention.
2. Avoid clichés like the plague
As you develop your voice, clarity follows originality. Sometimes, if we’re tired, or feeling a little lazy, we might resort to a well-worn cliché like the following to make a point:
Don’t upset the apple cart.
Let’s get down to brass tacks.
She sticks out like a sore thumb.
Avoid clichés like the plague.
But, what do you really mean to say when you use a cliché? Is it truly the accepted meaning behind the cliché? Instead of using an old, tired phrase to convey your idea, choose clear, plain language:
Don’t upset the apple cart. (Maintain the status quo.)
Let’s get down to brass tacks. (Let’s get to the point.)
Her hairstyle sticks out like a sore thumb. (Her hairstyle is unique.)
Avoid clichés like the plague. (Avoid clichés.)
3. Beware of redundancy
Redundancies are sneaky and require vigilance. To help expose redundancies, consider the purpose of each word you write. Are two words doing the same job? That’s a redundancy.
Consider, “past history” or “exact same” or “plan ahead.” Both words in each pairing say the same thing. For concision, choose one. To help you to identify redundancies, here’s a list of 200 common ones.
Have you fallen into any of these writing traps? I do, all the time. True confession: on composing the redundancy section I had originally written, “extra vigilance” and “both words in each pairing say exactly the same thing.” Whoops.
That’s why self-editing is as important as composition in the writing process.