Show, Don’t (Just) Tell (updating a handout)

I trimmed out some stale examples and added these examples to my handout on showing and telling.

What if your goal were to write about your favorite sport.

No Telling (No Details)

I like many different sports, from skiing to rock-climbing, but when it comes right down to it, I would have to say that ping-pong is my favorite sport.
(Snooze. This kind of writing can help you meet a word count, but it really boils down to “I like ping-pong.”  All the rest is filler. There’s nothing in this passage that expresses how the author feels about ping-pong, and nothing that informs or persuades the reader.)

MaybeTelling (Dry Details)

I think ping-pong is a really interesting sport. Casual players may find it relaxing, but to get really good, you need manual dexterity, agility and endurance.

(While the author has added details, those details merely assist the telling — this passage still starts out with a version of “I
like ping-pong.” A reader who doesn’t already love ping-pong will have no reason to change his or her mind.)

YesShowing with Detail

Ping-pong may look like a relaxing pastime, but for experts, winning the game requires manual dexterity, agility, and endurance.

(While there’s nothing particularly engaging in this opening, if the rest of the paper demonstrates that, in order to make
the transition from “relaxing pastime” to “winning the game,” you need “dexterity,” “agility” and “endurance,” then you see that this sentence isn’t just a random list of stuff to talk about. This opening line isn’t just throat-clearing or filler — it’s a carefully chosen table of contents, mentioning the topic of each of the supporting paragraphs.)

YesShowing with Emotion

He’s drenched in sweat, his knuckles are white, he’s on the other side of the ping-pong table, and I’m about to bring him down.

(There’s no need for the author of the last sample to write, “I like ping-pong” or “ping-pong is more serious than you think,” because the vivid details all show these points. The fact that the opponent is sweating means you need endurance. The fact that his knuckles are white suggest he’s nervous. The author’s claim “I’m about to bring him down” suggests that attitude and psychology play a role in ping-pong. This document might not be as technically or factually informative as the “Showing
with Detail” paragraph, but if your goal is to convey the idea that ping-pong is worthy of serious attention, then you might motivate your reader to reconsider their opinion of the game.)