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Can we use the expressions "Truth be told" or "To tell the truth" to describe something factual in our opinion in written arguments?

Example:

Truth be told, I think no one is winning this war.

The very phrase has the verb "told" in it which refers to someone speaking. So, can it only be used in a verbal argument, or can it be used in a written one as well?

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    "If truth be told" is an idiom. The meaning is not a literal interpretation of the words.
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 24, 2022 at 11:25
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    I think "truth be told" suggests a reluctance to speaking (or writing) that truth. Which doesn't seem to be exactly what you're going for. Maybe "as a matter of fact" would fit better.
    – user54131
    Jul 24, 2022 at 13:41

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This is asking two different questions so I'll answer them in turn.

First, yes, you can use "truth be told" in writing. The verb "tell" is not restricted to speech.

Second, the phrase "truth be told" is not about emphasizing the objective truth of your statements, it's about conveying honesty. This is a rhetorical device used before sharing personal opinions which has a connotation of confession. You can absolutely use this in an essay, but it won't have the effect of convincing people the information in your opinions is true, only that your expressed opinions are honestly held and not adopted for the sake of argument. This might be important if you're writing a persuasive essay about your own moral character, but if instead its a persuasive essay, expository essay, or research paper, it wouldn't lend any weight to your statements.

Rhetorical flourishes that emphasize facts include In fact, in reality, or factually. For example:

In reality, nobody is winning the war.

You'll note I left off the "I think" part. As stated above, unless this essay is actually about your personal opinions, it's not a good way to present your arguments. Because an essay is essentially a long-form argument. The entire paper is your opinion. Any sentences not specifically attributed to another author through quotation or citation are assumed by the reader to be your opinion. So phrases like "I think" are not necessary.

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Depends on how formal the essay is.

The issue is not so much that it is not literally told -- it's an idiom -- as that it's casual, even conversational, in nature. At least enough that a rambling essay talking about war, or something in which the war is an influence, might use it, but it's too casual for a scholarly essay.

(The scholarly essay would expect you to omit "I think" as well, but "Truth be told, no one is winning this war," is still casual. There are more formal ways to do it. Such as "in reality.")

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