Quick Tip #15: Show, Don’t Tell

You might be tempted, especially when you’re desperate, to rush your ideas. You use a few adjectives to tell readers about your thesis statements, personal strengths, and outlooks on life, expecting them to comprehend your exact points despite the vague language that looks intuitive to you. The written word has been used to stage Shaespeare’s tragedies, King’s horrors, and Plato’s epistemologies, yet some students will wind up saying something like this:

“The economy is bad.”


There is nothing grammatically wrong with the sentence, but the adjective “bad” fails to convey the full meaning of the writer’s subject: the economy.  After all, one reader’s interpretation of what “bad” means can be widely different from your own. Does “bad” mean mediocre? Does it mean apocalyptic? We need specific descriptions that show the intended meaning of the word “bad.” Let’s see a revised version:

“The stock market’s 15-point dip represents the initial decline of the economy’s worst depression.”

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Now, this sentence is actually getting somewhere. Through use of support, readers can see that the economy definitely has a “DEFCON-5” feel to it. But empty essay claims are not the only places where telling becomes a problem.

Would it surprise you to know that people often tell others more about their qualities than reveal them? This habit often appears when the writer’s experience matters more than the adjectives pasted to the page. But this is a habit that can be undone. Look at the following example:

“I am a well-qualified candidate for this position, and I promise to work hard and cooperate with your team.”


Applicants are valued on the relevant experience garnered during their careers. When writing a cover letter, describe small anecdotes or names of events that you participated in that are related to your intended position. Employers are looking for applicants who can knit their experiences together in an attractive way.

“While acting as Environment Designer for several Pixar films, the work demanded that I manage my time wisely, develop strong relationships with my supervisors and team, as well as become an active listener during critiques.”


When revising work, identify key places that need further explanation. Readers are only looking to understand your message, so slow down your thinking when necessary.

Happy showing!

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