- On December 30, 2019
There is an old saying in the writing world: ‘Show, don’t tell.’ Simply put, it means you’ll get better results if you paint a word picture using strong, clear images rather than vague abstractions to convey your intent.
Consider the example of 18th century poet Robert Burns. Attempting to woo his beloved, Burns wrote, “my love is like a red, red rose.” With those eight words he provides an instant visual of a delicate green stem topped with a gorgeous crimson bloom, brushed with a few droplets of silvery dew. We know exactly what Burns meant, and the image stays with us. But if he had written, “my deep-seated adoration is a fiery confluence of amorous emotions set aquiver,” our response would likely be, “huh? I think they make a cream for that.” And that muddled metaphor would be quickly forgotten.
Whether it’s a business report or the description for a bike listing on Craig’s List, we can use the same basic principle to punch up our writing. “Sales are up 85% over last quarter” beats the heck out of “data indicates an appreciable increase in gross revenues when compared to the similar previous time period.” It’s brief, concise, and gets the job done.
It’s easy to fall for the misconception that verbose and flowery language is somehow better — that it comes across as more refined and professional-sounding. Usually the opposite is true; readers often have trouble deciphering overly-wordy or long-winded pieces. And there’s a high probability that a word or phrase will be misused by the writer or misinterpreted by the reader, causing further confusion. Keeping things clear and simple avoids these issues, and your readers will thank you for not bogging them down in pretentious drivel.
Once you get in the habit of using concrete imagery in place of anything vague or opaque, you’ll see a vast improvement in your written work. I don’t have to TELL you what the payoff will be, the outcome will SHOW itself soon enough!