"Show, don't tell" or rather, "Show AND tell" – Good Writing's Golden Rule

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. —Anton Chekhov

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon. —Sol Stein

Instead of writing, 'I was frightened,' describe your fear in detail. 'My heart was racing. I could barely breathe and found myself unable to speak.' Charlie Badenhop



An old journalistic maxim, “Show, don’t tell,” demands that writers show their actions to express an event or story and not just offer the results of what happened.
  • To "show" means to demonstrate.
  • To "tell" means to assert.
Watch this video to SEE the difference. 
(if the link above does not work, please try this one
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syoSgZ8M8s4&t=3668s)

Now, go back to your essay. Instead of abstract words, try using words that will appear in the mind's eye of your readers as images. 

For example, we may say, "He is sloppy." This is telling. Instead, if you say, "His shoelaces are untied, his socks are mismatched, his shirt untucked, and his face unwashed." This is showing.

To truly convince your readers, make sure to show with details exactly what you mean. Save your assertions for the topic and controlling sentences.

You can't tell us someone is a wonderful person, a talented musician, or a spoiled child. We won't believe you. You must show us.

Please add details so readers can imagine and care about your story. 

Please watch this short video to learn HOW to add details to your essays. 
(If the link above does not work, please try this one

Finally, please read this example. 

TELL
“I arrived at ABC Bank and took on a great deal of responsibility in corporate lending. I managed diverse clients in my first year and earned the recognition of my manager. Because of my hard work, initiative, and leadership, he placed me on the management track, and I knew that I would be a success in this challenging position.”

In the two sentences above, the reader is told that the applicant “took on a great deal of responsibility,” “managed diverse clients,” and “earned recognition,” none of which is substantiated via the story. Further, there is no evidence of “hard work, initiative, and leadership.”

SHOW 
“Almost immediately after joining ABC bank, I took a risk in asking management for the accounts left by a recently transferred manager. Soon, I expanded our lending relationships with a children’s clothing retailer, a metal recycler, and a food distributor, making decisions on loans of up to $1M. Although I had a commercial banking background, I sought the mentorship of our District Manager and studied aggressively for the CFA (before and after fourteen-hour days); I was encouraged when the Lending Officer cited my initiative and desire to learn, placing me on our management track….”

In the example above, the story shows the “great deal of responsibility” (client coverage/ $1M lending decisions) and “diverse clients” (a children’s clothing retailer, a metal recycler, and a food distributor). Further, “hard work, initiative, and leadership” are clear throughout.

The latter is a more interesting, rich, and humble paragraph that is more likely to captivate the reader. By showing your actions in detail, the same conclusions are drawn, but facts facilitate them. Essentially, facts become your evidence!

(found at http://www.mbamission.com/blog/2010/11/22/monday-morning-essay-tip-show-dont-tell-2/; accessed 2010/11)

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