How to Avoid Truisms
Because truisms are subjective, you can never avoid them entirely. If you’re trying to make wise or insightful statements, you always run the risk that some readers will view your statements as truisms. But here are a few steps you can use to minimize the risk:
- Avoid clichés. Ask yourself, “Have I heard this before?” If you examine your writing, you might find that you’re making statements that are pretty commonplace, and therefore more likely to be seen as clichés. When you make statements, especially if you want them to be profound and wise, it’s important to make sure they’re original
- Be specific. Often, the problem with a truism is that it’s just too broad. Again, look back at the sports example from §3. The comment wouldn’t be a truism if the speaker was saying something about how the team might try to score, or the likelihood of their scoring. The example is a truism because it’s too broad and general to have much value.
- Be humble. Readers usually don’t like it when you come in with an attitude of “Look how wise I am!” Trying to make your writing sound wise often results in accidentally writing truisms. Instead, be humble and speak to your readers directly without trying to inflate yourself.
When to Use Truisms
Truisms can wreck your credibility if you write them by accident. But there may be situations where you deliberately write truisms into your work, especially in creative writing. There are a couple of reasons you might do this:
- Parody. Say you’ve been reading a lot of self-help books or sports biographies, and you’ve noticed that they have a lot of the same clichés and truisms. You could create a pretty funny parody of these genres by collecting all the truisms together and exaggerating them.
- Creating a foolish character. In literature, foolish characters often think they’re wise, and will make seemingly “profound” statements without realizing that they’re just truisms. (This happens in real life, too – psychologists call it the Dunning-Kruger effect.)