Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Top 10 ways to show, not tell

By · Sunday, July 21st, 2013

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It’s not easy to top the previous post, with a video of burned muffins and all. Watching those muffins burn to a crisp in a 10-second, time-lapse video is “showing” at its best.

But let’s not forget all the other ways to “show, not tell.” Here is a Top 10 list to keep in mind when you report and write:

  1. Describe the scene
  2. Use all your senses
  3. Ask follow questions
  4. Ask follow questions to follow questions
  5. Write simply: subject-verb-object structure
  6. Close your eyes; can you “see” what you just wrote?
  7. Delete words that merely “tell”
  8. Add anecdotes, examples and details
  9. Read what others write
  10. Reread what you write

Special note to boot campers: Review all the feedback you’ve received on your writing over the past three weeks. Apply this Top 10 list to that feedback. Ask yourself: Which points on this list do I “get” and which points do I need to strengthen? If you need a refresher, refer to Strategy 15: “Show, Don’t Tell” in Think Like an Editor. Ask yourself the same questions an editor would ask you.

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