During this election cycle, Donald Trump has been entertaining Americans with his unusual style of speaking. He can be offensive. He brags. He often jumps back and forth from one thought to another in the same sentence. While his style seems to appeal to a certain sector of the electorate, his method of communicating his thoughts is something writers should avoid. After researching Trump’s speaking style and reading some transcripts of his speeches, I’ve come up with the following list of ways to avoid Trumpisms in your writing. Although some apply more to nonfiction and some more to fiction, in general these can apply to any kind of writing.
Be specific. Trump likes to use words such as “many,” “thousands,” and “everyone.” This isn’t what you want to do as a writer. Unless you’re trying to be deliberately vague, you want to use words that are as specific as they can be. “Many” is nonspecific and could be any number. In place of “many,” use the exact number if you know it. If you don’t, provide an estimate or ballpark figure: “more than 100,” for example. If you don’t have a ballpark figure, try one of these: numerous, a multitude, multiple, countless, copious . . . you get the idea. Instead of “many people,” write something like, “numerous milliners” or whatever word is more appropriate and specific to replace the overused “people.” Avoid using “everyone” unless it’s true. In Trump’s case, it’s hyperbole, and he’s using it to convince us that it’s true. Be specific. It may not be true that “everyone” has seen a particular movie, but you most likely will be able to find audience estimates or box office receipts that are even more impressive than “everyone.” Real numbers are much more effective than hyperbole.
Avoid repetition. Sometimes repetition works when you do it intentionally, for effect. Trump loves repetition—it seems like he doesn’t know many words (even though he claims to have all the best words), and often, his sentences are near-duplicates of the previous sentence. Here’s an example of how Trump repeats the same idea and just changes a word or two each time. This is from a rally in Iowa on September 28, just a few days after the first debate: “People don’t know how great you are. People don’t know how smart you are. These are the smart people. These are the really smart people.” Avoid doing this when you write. State your point clearly and concisely, support your point, and move on.
Use a variety of sentence structures. More from Trump’s September 28 rally: “These are the smart. We have the smartest people. We have the smartest people. And they know it. And some say it. But they hate to say it. But we have the smartest people.” Whew! That’s a lot of words that don’t mean anything, along with a great deal of repetition. But even more, it’s dull sentence structure. Switch yours up. Combine short sentences with longer ones. Avoid constant use of subject/verb/object sentences. And while we’re at it, avoid starting more than one sentence in a row with “but” or “and,” unless you’re doing it for effect. I can’t move on before I point out that the first sentence in the above Trump quote is a fragment. Don’t forget that every sentence should be a complete thought. It’s not a complete thought If you have to ask yourself a question such as, “The smart what?”
Back up your claims. In June, Trump claimed that foreign governments hacked into Hillary Clinton’s email server. When he was asked to back up that claim, he couldn’t do it. In August, he claimed to have seen a video showing a $400 million dollar payment being unloaded from a U.S. plane in Iran. When challenged, he admitted he had never seen such a video. Don’t be like Trump: Back up your claims. If you’re not sure whether something is true, don’t write it, or research to find out the truth. Use reliable sources and be able to explain your points further if necessary.
Speak your truth. Donald Trump has been caught speaking lies, or partial lies, throughout his campaign. As writers, we should be speaking our truth. We should be letting our voices be heard. We should be true to ourselves and our perspectives. You are a combination of all of your experiences, your thoughts, your observations. No one else in the world knows what you know. Be true to yourself when you write. Dig deep and don’t be afraid to let the world know how you feel. You can be sure that the deeper you dig, the more people will love what you write. Sometimes when you go deep inside yourself to find your truth, it hurts. That’s okay. Your audience will appreciate your authenticity and value your words.
Don’t insult your audience. This probably goes without saying, but it’s not a good idea to insult your audience. Besides the bullying and misogyny, Trump does this is by expressing himself using very basic words and sentence structures. In fact, Trump’s language falls between a third- and fourth-grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid grade-level test. This is insulting because it is based on the idea that his audience will only understand the most basic, shallow concepts presented in childish language. Don’t be like the Donald, unless your audience is indeed third and fourth graders. Use your true voice and express yourself using a variety of words. Don’t assume that people will not understand your ideas. Present your truth in the way only you know how to do.
Don’t be like Trump! You want your readers to laugh or cry or nod in agreement when they read your writing, not roll their eyes in disgust or scoff at your obvious attempts to manipulate them. Be yourself, write your truth, and cite your sources. You will find your audience.