Writing Tip: Show Don't tell

Katie Chambers
A free video tutorial from Katie Chambers
Writer, Teacher, Editor
4.5 instructor rating • 1 course • 2,178 students

Lecture description

This tip gets down to the heart of the matter: showing your skills rather than telling your skills.  This is the best thing you can do to help you shine. Since this is such an important principle, it will be further illustrated in the description of accomplishments lecture of the content section.  

In this lecture, you will have the opportunity to practice this concept, so when it comes time to implement it into your own resume in the experience section, you will feel more comfortable doing so. 

This is a very important tip to set the stage for a great experience section. 

Learn more from the full course

Resume Writing - Your Ultimate Step-by-Step Resume Guide

A detailed guide for effective resume writing. Write a resume that lands interviews, getting your foot in the door

02:11:39 of on-demand video • Updated August 2019

  • Transform your current resume to a stunning, marketable resume
  • Develop a cutting-edge resume that helps you stand out from the crowd
  • Market yourself as a valuable employee
  • Show your specific, marketable skills and traits through writing
  • Determine which experiences and sections to include
  • Teach others how to write an effective resume with examples
  • Receive convenient and expert support and feedback for your resume
English Have you ever heard the phrase “Actions speak louder than words”? As mentioned earlier, saying you possess a specific ideal characteristic is meaningless. I can stand here and tell you I am funny; I can even tell you that when I teach English, at least one person laughs in every single one of my classes every day. But, what does that mean to you? I am sitting here talking about a resume, and I have not said anything funny, so that is not a characteristic you would attribute to me. However, you might have noticed that I am energetic, and I am passionate because that you noticed through my actions. On your resume, you need to let your actions as an employee, a student, and a generally awesome human being come through; however, the trick here is you need to use words to show your actions. So let’s take a look at a resume example that I put together containing dead words and phrases and let's turn them into show don’t tell action phrases. Here under the job title waitress, here, it says I worked hard to fulfill customers’ needs Well, what’s wrong with that phrase? See, it contains two dead words/phrases: it has "I" and "worked hard" which is the same as saying hard worker, and we listed that as a dead word. So instead, you need to ask yourself, what did I do to show I was working hard? You still want to have that attribute come through. You just don't want to say worked hard. So, did you have multiple tables at once? Did you quickly solve conflicts when customer seemed unhappy or impatient? If so, how about we change this here to instead say "Managed multiple tables in the largest serving section while maintaining prompt and accurate delivery consistently," or you could say, "Resolved potential conflicts, ensuring customer satisfaction without relying on the manager." But, now we no longer have the dead phrase of “worked hard.” Instead, we are showing that we worked hard. You can still see this is a hard worker. I mean the fact that they were assigned the largest serving section shows her former employer recognized she worked hard and achieved success. Consistently being prompt shows the worker was not distracted and committed to the work while on the job. Not relying on the manager..I don't know what happened to that...I typed that somewhere. I don't know what happened to the second one we typed. But, not relying on the manager to always show the conflicts..solve the conflicts shows this employee is willing to work hard to achieve results herself. So I turned work hard into a show don't tell example. This is showing that they worked hard without telling. Now, what else in this resume shows that she is a hard worker? Can you identify what else? I can find 4 things in this resume that highlights the trait hard worker. Press pause on the audio and take a minute to find examples of showing she is a hard worker. If you need a hint, wait to press pause until you hear the hint. The hint is to look in the education section as well as the experience section. Ok, let's look at what shows and identifies that she's a hard worker, and, hopefully, you were able to identify some or all of them. We see that this student had a high GPA and was in honors classes. That shows hard working in maintaining high grades while in honors classes. We can see that she was involved in many extra-curricular activities: debate club, softball team..this also shows hard worker because she is committing to all of those things. If you look at the dates, she was working 2009-2012 that is during her schooling. So, this individual was working at a job and maintaining high grades. And, then earned a promotion right here. So all of these things show she is a hard worker. She didn't have to point it out. It's better to show it rather than say it. So, now, looking at this resume, can you identify another dead word or phrase? Other than the I. All the I are wrong, and we would want to get rid of all the I. But, besides the I, what else can you see that is a dead word or phrase that we learned earlier? Press pause on the video and figure out what the phrase is. Ok, so the phrase is TEAM PLAYER. We had that on our dead words. So, we want to show that this individual that she is a team player rather than tell it. So go ahead and press pause on the video and see if you can write showing sentences. Write a sentence that shows an action revealing that she is a team player. So go ahead and press pause on the audio. Ok, you could have had other examples, but here are some three..uh...here are three that I thought of that shows she is a team player. She stepped in to help bus tables. She communicated with the cook and other servers to ensure smooth service. She aided other servers with their tables to ensure all customers were served in a timely manner. All of these show she isn't just taking care of her own customers, but she is helping out the other servers and the other busers and the hostess. She's a team player. She's willing to pitch in and help others, and these all show that, which is much better than telling it. SO what you want to do with your resume is make sure that you are showing and not telling. So anytime you tell that you are a hard worker or your a team player, or you communicate well, instead show how you specifically do that. This makes the resume come alive and your prospective employer believes you actually have those desirable traits because you showed instead of told. See the supplement material for this lesson for more examples of showing instead of telling.