The Power Of Trigger Words: A Guide For Compelling Writing
Trigger warnings are ubiquitous. You see and hear them on blogs, podcasts, YouTube, and Facebook posts.
Their appearance cautions the audience that the content may cause emotional distress.
But triggers are not inherently negative. Instead, writers can use these valuable vocabulary tools to engage readers, move them into action, evoke empathy, entertain, or ignite laughter.
Trigger words help craft compelling writing. They “trigger” an emotional response from an audience, heightening engagement. These persuasive words hook the readers’ attention, guiding them towards feeling empathy, rising to a call for action, or sparking curiosity to read on.
If a writer composes in a void and there is nobody to read it, was a story told? Without people’s engagement, a piece dies, regardless if it is an advert, email, essay, blog, tweet, book review, or novel.
An audience breathes life into words. They give them purpose. Bland writing will fail to captivate, and any message will be forgotten. But trigger words give writers the power to be heard.
Why Are Trigger Words Essential For Compelling Writing?
Trigger words are literary neon, capturing the attention of an overwhelmed audience. Never before have writers had to work so hard to grab people’s interest and then hold it.
Content floods our senses from more outlets than ever before. Even as we scroll, there are pop-ups and sidebars, yanking focus away from the main feeds.
Consider all the voices trying to capture people’s eyes and hearts:
- Social media
- Text messages
- Push notifications
Writers are also facing the challenge of speaking to a world still dealing with the phenomenon known as the “pandemic brain.”
The world’s collective trauma and emotional response to events have lingered long after lockdowns, causing havoc with people’s attention spans and focus. Trigger words help cut through the societal fog and guide readers in.
Use Trigger Words For Bold Headlines, Titles, And Subject Headings
Trigger words are employed in headlines, titles, and subject headings to get readers to click. They blaze above the roar of societal messaging, flashing its neon sign, “Look over here.” Without them, audiences scroll on without ever giving the content a chance.
Consider the wellness industry that engages readers on nutrition, weight loss, exercise, and mental health. Their headlines use trigger words and phrases that suggest the answers to your problems are only a click away:
- See Amazing Results in Only 5 Days
- Discover the 3 Essential Foods For Gut Health
- The Secret Behind Mindfulness
- Unlock the Power of Positivity
- Boost Your Energy Using These 4 Simple Tricks
- The Ultimate Guide to Building Brand Loyalty That Lasts
Even the word “wellness” is a trigger word, promising readers the recipe for a healthy body and mind.
They proclaim to know something you don’t, and with this mysterious yet easy-to-follow information, your life will be transformed.
Examples of other trigger words utilized in this industry:
News headlines are also masters at using trigger words.
For example, who doesn’t feel compelled to click when they read the phrase “Florida Man.”
However, you don’t have in the sunshine state to find headlines using trigger words to scream about politicians involved in:
- Secret plots
- Controversial funding
- Illegal activities
- Concealed documents
- Covert operations
- Hidden agendas
Headlines use trigger words to convey that their journalists have access to:
- Insider information
- Behind-the-scenes knowledge
- Off-the-record sources
- Underground evidence
- Confidential material
An engaging headline that utilizes triggers, such as the ones used above, ignites curiosity, motivating people to stop scrolling and begin reading. But that’s only one aspect of these words’ power.
How Do Trigger Words Compel People To Keep Reading?
Winning an audience’s attention is only the start of your literary battle. Now you have to hold your readers’ gaze until the end, avoiding the dreaded acronym TL;DR (too long; didn’t read).
However, usually, readers don’t use it literally. Instead, they signal that it failed to motivate them to read beyond the first sentence.
There are many tricks of the pen to possess your audience’s focus, including trigger words. But knowing which ones to use requires the writer to understand their goal. What is the purpose of the piece?
For example, are you trying to sell something? If so, the first line needs to punch that point using trigger words such as:
- Act now
- Can’t miss
- Exclusive offer
- Going fast
- Instant savings
- Imagine owning
- Limited time
- Prices slashed
- Rare opportunity
- Save now
- This could be yours
- Unbelievable deal
- Unheard of savings
- Yours for only
These words convey to readers that there is a rare opportunity to obtain goods or services for less than the typical asking price. These words also create a sense of urgency, motivating people to act quickly. It also encourages eyes to read on to discover how they can seize this opportunity.
Trigger Words Understand We Act Emotionally, Not Logically
Writers that use trigger words understand that human beings mostly act on emotions. For all the proclamations of being rational human beings, logic rarely dictates decisions.
Instead, the final step is motivated by the following:
- Gut instinct
In 2004, US voters favored Bush over Kerry. But it wasn’t necessarily policy driving them toward Dubbya.
Polls showed that people felt Bush was the kind of guy you could hang out with to flip burgers and drink beer. Didn’t matter that the man had stopped drinking at 40. People felt like he was the drinking buddy type.
After that came Obama, with a winning campaign on hope and change. His message was to inspire. In short, it was all about good feelings.
Move on to 2015, and there was Trump, running to be the Republican nominee. Once again, polls showed that voters thought he was somebody they’d like to drink with. It’s not a logical answer. Like Bush W., Trump is a teetotaler. But that was how he made many people feel.
Thus, using trigger words taps into an audience’s emotional response. Because while writers can list all the facts, they won’t be what persuades people to take action. It’s the emotions that the piece evokes that move people to make their choice.
Trigger Words Create Emotional Memories
Writers who use trigger words are harnessing their power to make their pieces memorable. The feelings the piece evokes gives the message longevity. Trigger words also make information easier to digest.
For example, look at this paper published in 2022 for Tirzepatide, a drug being investigated for treating obesity. The abstract on the clinical trial contains dense language with phrases such as:
- The mean percentage change
- Coprimary endpoints
- Confidence interval
- Novel glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide
These phrases have meaning for people in the medical field. But they won’t stick in the brains of folks outside the industry.
However, a non-medically trained person will have no difficulty following the article in Healthline on the same study. Sure, the likelihood is low of anyone remembering all the information provided by the piece. But Healthline knows this and employs trigger words in the sub-headings, grabbing attention and making the key points memorable:
- Weight loss
- Not yet been approved
- Experts say
- Not be a silver bullet
- End obesity
These words pull the reader in and provide the essence of the information in the article: That there is a new weight loss drug being tested that isn’t available to the public, and the results won’t solve the obesity epidemic.
Novelists Need Trigger Words To Sell Their Story
Novelists are in sales, too. They must pitch their story to agents and readers, often through the blurb. The crucial paragraph or two needs to trigger an emotional response such as:
People read fiction to feel their feelings in a safe space. For example, bookworms are drawn to Stephen King’s Misery because it promises to spark fear, horror, and suspense. They don’t pick it up to learn how to be a novelist. If they wanted that, they could peruse his book On Writing. Instead, they want to shiver, gasp, and wince as they journey through Paul Sheldon’s horrifying ordeal.
But Misery is only one of Stephen King’s many novels. It is also far from the only story promising to scare the living daylights out of readers. So, while Stephen Kind is a household name, the blurb still has to sell the story. Thus, it is not surprising to find trigger words peppering the book’s description on Amazon:
- Number one fan
- Best yet
Trigger Words Bring Life to Recipes
Food bloggers and chefs rarely put out a recipe without a story. That’s because food is an experience far beyond the tastebuds. Food creates memories, establishes a mood, is a class signifier, a cultural cornerstone, and acts as a centerpiece for celebrations and holidays. Consider these words:
- Pumpkin pie
- Dim sum
- Barbeque ribs
- Matzo balls
- Rice and beans
- Cranberry sauce
- Kraft mac & cheese
Plug “pumpkin pie” into a search engine, and hundreds of recipes pop up. The same happens with “tacos” or “cranberry sauce.” Sure, some chefs and food bloggers gain a reputation for producing mouthwatering recipes.
But many people select cookbooks and blogs based on the stories that accompany the food. These readers go on to try to recreate these dishes in the hopes of capturing more than tasty delights. What they seek is a mood, an experience, a recreation of a moment that until now may have only existed in a dream.
Consequently, food writers capitalize on using trigger words to gain an audience, such as:
Food manufacturers also capitalize on trigger words to tempt customers to pluck their product off the shelves and place it in their baskets. There is so much power in these words and phrases that there are studies on how they stimulate our eating.
Trigger Words Attract The Right Food Audience
Food bloggers and chefs also use trigger words to attract their core audience. By using key phrases and ingredients, they signify to potential readers the following:
- Level of difficulty required to make the dish
- Cost of ingredients
- Ease of sourcing ingredients
- Time required to make the dish
- Type of pallet that will enjoy the food
- Ease of cleanup
- Space needed
For example, the following trigger words are helpful for writers trying to appeal to busy working parents of small children:
- Quick and easy
- One pot
- No hassle
- Less than
- Frugal family
- Lazy dinners
- Throw in
- No stress
On the other hand, food writers use an entirely different set of trigger words to appeal to childless, unmarried people seeking romantic meal ideas:
- Doable, delicious dinners
- Sweet and salty
These trigger words are also helpful for fiction writers. For example, imagine writing a hectic dinner scene for a young, single mom. Now think of composing a scene where a sophisticated career woman invites her personal trainer over to dine.
You’ll create a scene that reflects the mood, tone, and setting for your characters’ fictional meal by utilizing the correct trigger words.
Trigger Words Convey A Home’s Mood And Tone
Regardless if your words are trying to sell real estate or write a novel, trigger words help set a home’s mood and tone.
For example, people start off looking for a home with a logical list of needs, including:
- Necessary features
- If it is move-in ready or fixer-upper
But as any real estate agent can attest, you can show people many properties that fit their list, but unless it captures their hearts, they won’t buy. The emotion of a home is so essential that it can lead people to buy a place that is nothing like what’s on their list.
Similarly, homes in stories are required to meet readers’ expectations for a tale. A wealthy family isn’t going to be living in a trailer park unless the story creates a compelling reason. However, a murder in a caravan at the edge of a Louisiana swamp can be perfect for mysteries or thrillers.
Trigger Words Define If It Is Horror Or Opportunity
Trigger words tell readers how to see a home. These phrases can take the same dwelling and frame it as the perfect place for a horror novel or as a young couple’s chance to climb the housing ladder.
For example, logically, we all know that a rickety fence, creaking staircase, crooked windows, and cobwebbed attic doesn’t equate to spooky ghosts. Rationally, it is a sign it was most likely neglected due to the owners’ lacking funds, getting ill, or dying from natural causes. Nonetheless, thanks to that description, more than a few people will think of murder and hauntings.
Thus, good trigger words for a house of horror include:
- Scarred wood
However, a real estate agent will want to reframe the house into a less threatening image using trigger words such as:
- Oozing with potential
- Handyman special
- Full of character
- Blank canvas
- Original features
- Prime location
Trigger Words Define If It Is A Secluded Shack Or A Cottage Retreat
Living out of town is where nightmares and romances are born. Trigger words define the difference. Fiction writers will use both, depending if they are writing a crime or romance novel. Real estate agents will be all about the charm and restorative experience of “getting away from it all.”
So let’s take a cabin out in the woods. Crime writers will lean towards words such as:
- Hunting cabin
- No amenities
- Run down
- Slapped together
However, anyone trying to sell the property is going to lean into trigger words such as:
- Natural surroundings
- Wood burning stove
Essential Trigger Words For Fundraising And Calls To Action
Trigger words are essential regardless if an organization is trying to save the whales or win an election. Their fundraising and calls of action go hand in hand, as staging demonstrations and going door-to-door require money.
Even if most of the organization is run by volunteers, email marketing service software and social media management tools are not free if you are reaching out to large audiences. Plus, any service that processes donation money takes a chunk of the pie.
The first thing to do is get people to care. Sometimes this is done by inviting people to consider being part of a movement that will result in a better, more fruitful future. In these instances, use positive trigger words and phrases:
- Imagine a world where
- Imagine living in a community
- Consider a world where
- You could live in a community that
- Your dreams of a world where
Negative trigger words and phrases can also tap into people’s rage in the hopes of channeling it into a productive outcome:
- We’re outraged
- Don’t take this lying down
- You can help stop
- You can join the fight
- You can help end
- You can help reclaim
- We’re furious
- This is an insult to our values
- You can help defend
Trigger words motivate an audience to act quickly. Chances are low that people will donate or sign a petition if they close the laptop or put away their phone after reading. Sure, maybe they think, “I’ll do that later,” but later rarely comes. Thus, a sense of urgency needs to be created utilizing trigger words such as the following:
- Act now
- Give now
- Straight away
- Start today
- Time is ticking
- Time is running out
When selecting trigger words for fundraising and calls of action, consider these essential points in your request.
1. Make It Personal
You is one of the most potent trigger words, regardless of industry. But it is crucial in campaigns looking to raise funds, recruit, or create action. It raises the person’s role in the cause, making them essential to reaching the solution.
2. Explain Why It Matters
Because is a powerful trigger word, telling your audience why the cause matters. Studies have shown that giving people a reason transforms your success rate.
Also, don’t just give the stats on the issue; add other trigger words to heighten empathy. Let them know if people, animals, the environment, or communities are in:
- Fighting for
- Losing rights
- War on
3. Make It Easy To Help
Easy has magical power. Donations and actions are often impulse decisions done spontaneously.
The more jumps a person has to do, the less they’ll be inclined to give in to the impulse to help. But if people can “make a difference” with little effort, they’ll be more inclined to act.
- Just a few
- With less than a minute of your time
- With one click, you can make a difference
- With only
4. Show How Small Gestures Make A Big Difference
Making a difference compels people to act. Yes, large, million-dollar donations are welcome. Yes, people who can give up their jobs to dedicate their lives to your cause are gold. But most of your audience doesn’t have the means to do these things.
Give power and significance to their modest contribution. Show how their few dollars or one morning a month can create a massive impact. People need to feel that no matter how small their help is, it will matter in making a difference.
- Every dollar counts
- Every vote matters
- Even a few minutes can help change
- Your signature can help stop
5. Thank Them In Advance
Thank you is one of the first magical phrases we learn. But by thanking somebody in advance for their donation, time, signature, repost, forward, or call to a senator, you are creating a sense of obligation and motivating people to want to please you.
- We are grateful
- You matter
- Thanks to your help
- We value your
Trigger words tap into human emotions. They drive people’s impulses, gut feelings, spontaneity, and hunches. For all our talk about logic and rationality, our hearts and souls drive our decisions and actions. Adding these powerful words to your writing can help shape people’s views, opinions, and future roads.
Most of all, you raise the chances of being heard.