wordWhether as Shakespeare’s Juliet posits, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” or whether as the Chinese proverb states, “the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names,” it is undeniable that the right word choice is important to effective communication.

This is particularly true when it comes to running a successful small business—be it conversations with your team, sales presentations, pitches to potential investors, or written materials such as marketing letters, advertisements, and even every-day emails. Choosing the right words can help close sales and drive people to action; choosing the wrong ones can make you look fake, foolish, faddish, and ruin a first impression or derail a potentially profitable relationship.

The following lists of useful and overused words and phrases can help you pick the right words for many common business situations.

Say No Evil

  • The 10 Most Overused Marketing Words and Phrases of 2014
    This list, unscientifically compiled by Gartner employees, includes 10 “words that reached the heights of hackney in 2014.” Read the post to learn why they think, “Big data, Omnichannel, , Customer journey, Mobile first, Digital business, Real time, Leverage, Lean in, and Pivot” have “jumped the shark.”

  • The 8 Most Overused Words in PR and Marketing
    This VerticalResponse post calls out “Groundbreaking, Revolutionary, Advanced, Bleeding edge, Exclusive, Unique, and Best” as “fluff” words that have little place in your press releases and marketing materials. It also provides suggestions for more effective alternatives.

  • 10 Overused Words to Remove From Your LinkedIn Profile
    This HubSpot post provides some less hackneyed, more effective alternatives to the recently released list of “the most overused, underwhelming buzzwords and phrases in LinkedIn profiles of 2014 across the world.” The list to avoid: “Motivated, Passionate, Creative, Driven, Extensive experience, Responsible, Strategic, Track record, Organizational, Expert.”

  • 11 Words & Phrases to Avoid Using on Social Media and What to Say Instead
    This VerticalResponse post provides alternatives to common social media cliché phrases including, “Groundbreaking, Once in a lifetime, Best, Check this out!, Think outside the box, Game Changer, World Class, LOL, YOLO, Selfie, Bae or Bruh.”

  • These Words Are So Overused They’ve Become Meaningless
    From the Huffington Post, this article goes beyond the timely lists of popular overused phrases and highlights 12 words that have been so worn-out that they have not only completely lost their original meaning, but have lost all meaning entirely. They are: “Literally, Unique, Awesome, Amazing, Totally, Basically, Incredible, Really, Very, Honestly, Absolutely, and Unbelievable.”

  • Lake Superior State University Complete List of Banished Words
    The University has been releasing a yearly list of banished words since 1977. Banishments for 2015 are “Bae, Polar Vortex, Hack, Skill Set, Swag, Foodie, Curate/Curated, Friend Raising, Cra-Cra, Enhanced Interrogation, Takeaway, and –Nation.” The complete list, dating back to 1977, is a master guide to the words and phrases you should avoid, and why.

What’s the Good Word?

The buffersocial post, The Big List of 189 Words That Convert: Write Copy That Gets Your Customer’s Attention Every Time, is a comprehensive compellation of “good word” sources. In it you’ll find:

  • How changing a single word can drastically affect outcome—whether that is button text on a webpage, or a stock ticker selected by a company going public.
  • Why, “You, Free, Because, Instantly, and New” are the 5 most persuasive English words.
  • David Ogilvy’s 1963 list of the 20 most influential words in advertising. (Interestingly, some of these have made it onto the modern “overused” lists.)
  • Multiple other word sets, and the best places to use them, such as those encouraging community (“Join”), cause-and-effect words that make claims sound objective rather than biased (“Consequently”), phrases that imply exclusivity (“Become an insider”), phrases that imply scarcity (“Only available here”), and words that make you feel safe (Certified).

Also check out:

Wordsmithing Tools

All writers know that the thesaurus is their most valuable assistant. If the one built into your word processing program isn’t enough for you, try one of the following:

  • Thesaurus.com, based on Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, 3rd edition. (This is the one that is utilized in Google search results.)
  • Collins Thesaurus Online.
  • Ginger. This application can be used wherever you write—in Word on a Windows desktop, on your mobile phone, or in your browser. It can also be used as a standalone writing improvement tool that will not only check spelling and grammar, but also make suggestions on improving writing style. The free version is most helpful used standalone (where there are no minimums). Simply paste the text of advertising copy, a sales email, or a social media post into the program, and then click the “feather” icon to see alternative phrasing that may be more effective.
  • The Visual Thesaurus. You can do a limited number of free searches a day. (You can also get a paid subscription for unlimited access.) It provides a visual “web” of related terms in response to your query. Watch a video of it in action here.
  • Visuwords. This free graphical dictionary and thesaurus makes dynamic “neural net” diagrams of word associations. Type a word into the search box, and watch the net spin up on screen. Double click on nodes to expand your diagram, zoom in and out, re-arrange to make connections, and hover over words for definitions. (The image at the top of this post is a Visuwords matrix for “Word”)

The Last Word

Now that you’ve fully immersed yourself in the pitfalls of poor word choices, play #wordsbracket from PR News and/or Jargon Madness from Forbes. These NCAA tournament-style brackets ask you to pit overused saying vs. woesome cliché to pick your ultimate hackneyed word or phrase.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I’m the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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