The right way to use a Trigger Warning

How to write a trigger warning?

How To Write A Trigger Warning

Trigger warning / Content warning: What are they and how to use them?

If you have ever been on the Internet, you might have seen those mentions in an article, blog posts, social media, or others. What are they? In wording, TW stands for Trigger Warning, CW stands for Content Warning. But words aren’t enough to understand those small but essential acronyms.

When posting on the Internet, one does not control their audience. 

Content Warnings will be used to describe something that might upset readers, that might make them feel bad, without referring to a traumatic experience. It might, for example, refer to a phobia, to nudity, to blood, to birth, etc.

Trigger Warnings are here to prevent people who have experienced traumatic experiences to be exposed to something that might trigger a physical and/ or mental reaction. Trigger is the key word here. “Trigger*” is used to talk about PTSD and mental illness. “Triggered” and “offended/upset” are not the same concept.

I can be upset if I see a picture of a beautiful cake because I cannot bake, but it won’t trigger a post-traumatic reaction. Some common triggers are evocation and/or images of sexual violence, physical violence, violence on kids, war scenes, domestic violence, eating disorders, etc.

Of course, one doesn’t know every traumatic experience that exists, and some people might have had trauma with uncommon things. So no, you cannot always guess, and yes, you might sometimes miss something. That happens.

How to use Content Warning / Trigger Warning?

Now that we understand what they are let’s find out how to write a trigger warning/ content warning.

When posting a picture on a social media, start your description with the warning type (“TW:” or “CW:,”) and then add keywords. Make them clear enough that people know whether they want to go on with the read or not, but not so descriptive that they might alone trigger a reaction.

Then, go next line, add a period, go next line, add a period, and repeat. By doing that, the description will be hidden, and your readers will be able to decide if they want to click on the “read more” option or not. If you do not do that, the text will appear right away, and the person deciding not to read your text will have it right under their nose.

CW and TW should not be mistaken for descriptions. No, you cannot write “CW: cute, adorable, love.”

CW and TW matter because you do not know who might read your text. When chatting with friends, we often know what we can talk about or not.

When writing on the Internet, we are opening to people from all over the world, with different life experiences. If you take two minutes to insert your TW, you might save someone from a panic attack, from nightmares, from suicidal thoughts, and you will show them that you acknowledge their experience.

So for 2019, let’s be as good at hiding triggering information as we are at hiding spoilers =)

This Blog Post about ” how to use a trigger warning ” has been written by Leslie Many


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Comments (4)

  1. A

    The thing about adding what the trigger might be after a trigger warning should be more well known. I see so many people put ‘trigger warning’ or ‘content warning’ but not specify any further, and then I never know- what is it: Wounds? Something sexual? Death? How do I know if it’s something that might trigger me? And I never know whether to take that chance or not.

  2. Bernie Block

    Thanks for the info, I didn’t know what a trigger warning was – Bernie Block

  3. T W

    I often see trigger warnings typed in online leet-like speak, e.g. “s3xua! as$ault”. Is there a reason for this? Is it just to avoid potential social media censorship about such topics?

  4. Kay

    Thanks for this. Helpful. In terms of your examples – birth for many may be a TW not just a CW. Many people have had traumatic birth experiences.

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