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Show, Don’t Tell

As a kid, you took your most dear possessions to school for show and tell. The showing was almost always better than the telling. This post will help you show, not tell, your readers, making your writing more engaging.

My name is Leah. I’m a quality assurance editor at Textbroker and took my first formal journalism class at the age of 15. The gray-haired man who taught me journalism was old school. He taught me the founding principles of the profession in a time when cut-and-paste was becoming copy-and-paste and when reporters still interviewed most sources in person. Mr. Elliott taught me to “show and not tell” from the moment I walked into his classroom, and learning that principle at a young age was integral to my success as a writer.

What does show rather than tell mean in regards to writing, you may wonder. This simply means that a writer should paint a picture for the reader rather than dryly explaining the subject.
To better illustrate this concept, consider the following sentences:

“She had blonde hair.”

“Her hair was the color of a wheat field in the fall.”

The first one tells the reader the facts. It is factual but not very engaging. The second sentence gives the reader more of a mental image. That’s what I mean by showing instead of telling. You’re showing your reader by painting a picture in their minds rather than telling them with words.

This knowledge comes in handy not only in regards to the body of an article but in the introduction and conclusion as well. Take the introduction to this blog post. I could have said, “My favorite journalism teacher, who was kind of old, taught me a lot of important stuff. It was kind of a long time ago. In this blog post, I will discuss the most important concept. Read on to learn about showing versus telling.”

Not very engaging, right? It is grammatically and factually correct, but it does not make the reader interested. Also, the final sentence is filler content since it is dryly telling the reader what the next few paragraphs are about.

Conclusions follow the same principles. Rather than saying “in conclusion” or “to sum up,” wrap up the subject with a final thought. A short paragraph will suffice in most instances.

Also, remember not to introduce new information, such as interesting facts, in a conclusion. If an interesting fact should be mentioned, do so somewhere in the body of the article. Additionally, conclusions should not be a summarizing paragraph. If it was said before in the article, and it is said again in the conclusion, it is filler.

I realize that this goes against what most of us were taught when we learned to write essays. However, an essay or term paper is miles away from an article or press release, and, therefore, different rules and styles apply.

It is also important to understand that showing the reader is not the same as filler text; showing the reader too much can often be off-topic and distract from the main idea. Always stay on topic.
Using what we’ve learned, then, which is the better conclusion?

1. I owe so much to Mr. Elliott and am so grateful that I was taught the basics of engaging writing at a young age. His concept of showing rather than telling is something I have brought into all facets of my writing, from the introductory paragraph to the last sentence of conclusions. Finding a good balance between essential information and engaging language can sometimes be difficult, but learning to paint a picture for the reader will greatly improve your writing as it has mine.

2. In conclusion, this article attempted to give you information about how to show the reader rather than tell them. An article is different from a term paper. Conclusions should not be a summary.


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