In writing, we use the concept “show, don’t tell” to ignite our reader’s imaginations and transport them into the world of our story. We build sensory experiences with descriptive and specific details — sometimes called “images” — to help us entertain and inform our audience. The skill is necessary to capture our reader’s interest and keep them engaged.
But, how do you actually build showing statements? The answer lies in how you build imagery and create an experience for your audiences.
Breaking It Down
On a basic scale, show-don’t-tell writing can turn this tell statement:
It rained all day.
Into this show statement:
By evening, the rain had seeped into the basement, turning the lawn puddles into a big, muddy pool.
The show statement expands on the information included in the tell statement with images (a flooded basement and lawn, mud). The result is more informative and gives us a clear sense of environment.
Applying “Show, Don’t Tell” to Business Writing
In business writing, finding the balance between showing and telling can be tricky. Your primary goal is to relay information in a way that an audience can easily understand and absorb, whether that’s to drive a sale or provide instructions. In order to educate while engaging, you need to thoughtfully blend your telling needs with showing statements.
Here’s a telling statement you might encounter in the business world:
We are trustworthy and dependable — you can count on our team to serve your family’s needs.
Rewritten as a showing statement, the details look something like this:
We’re here for your family when you need our guidance and pledge to answer your phone calls, give honest advice, and respect your wishes.
The showing statement gives potential clients a clearer picture of the benefits they’ll receive by trusting this firm. By sharing these benefits, the reader receives that sense of “trustworthiness,” rather than directly reading it. The showing statement takes the same tell details and expands on the initial idea with concrete examples — further replacing clichés with practical language and tangible sentiments.
Analyzing “Show, Don’t Tell” in Business Writing
Here’s an example from Sage Fly Fishing, producers of some of the market’s best fly rods and reels. When describing their products, they support their initial telling statement with several concrete details and consumer benefits:
“KonneticHD Technology is the next era in performance graphite rods. Optimizing our graphite-to-resin ratio, we have created a higher density (HD) fiber composite, resulting in lighter, strong blanks, which deliver unmatched recovery, energy transfer, and line/loop control.”
Simply writing, “We use technology to help you catch fish,” wouldn’t convince anyone to buy an $800 fishing rod. Instead, Sage clearly show us the following:
- Technology: The opening statement’s primary focus is to introduce new Konnetic HD production technology. Sage writes that their new technology is “the next era” in fishing rods, delivering the key info and depicting Sage as innovators in their field.
- Details: Next, Sage gives us details to help us see the KonneticHD Technology. The specific statements show readers how Sage uses the new technology (“optimizing our graphite-to-resin ratio”) and the results (“higher density (HD) fiber composite”).
- Experience: Finally, Sage uses descriptive language so anglers can understand how the KonneticHD technology will help them on the water. Phrases like “lighter, strong blanks” and “unmatched recovery, energy transfer, and line/loop control” give specifics to help us better understand the benefits of the new technology.
Finding the Necessary Details
Identifying specific and relevant details to help your readers see your content takes some practice. To help ensure you’re showing sentiments, rather than telling them, try working through the following steps:
- Identify key concepts and information that the audience needs to know.
- Ask pointed and specific questions to help reveal details and images.
- Keep a running list of unique and descriptive words and phrases that emerge.
- Ensure showing statements support telling statements.
- Replace any clichés, jargon, or other commonly used words and phrases with concrete details and images.
With practice and time, you’ll start to identify the details that will bring your writing to life and capture your reader. And if you need further guidance, we’re always happy to help.