This post is yet another attempt to demystify the most critical essay-writing advice of “show, don’t tell.”
You may want to go back and read over some of those previous posts before starting in on this one. We think they’ll help.
When we say to “show” the reader stuff in your essays, the strategy is to DEMONSTRATE it. This needs to happen with facts and details.
Here’s what we mean:
“I had a horrible childhood” is telling the reader.
What you want to do is to offer PROOF for your claims.
Remember, you’re pitching the adcom. You’re making a case that you’re going to be an asset to their school. This evidence-based approach is the best (only?) way to make it into a top bschool these days.
If a friend of yours utters the statement “I had a horrible childhood” and you in fact believe that you also had a horrible childhood, then you may be interested to know what they went through that made it so bad.
Thinking back over your own childhood, memories might come to mind of the struggles your parents went through to put food on the table, both of them working two jobs, living in a not-safe neighborhood. Perhaps your family immigrated to a new country when you were a child and your parents were on their own there, no other extended family around to help out. Maybe they arrived with just a little bit of money in their pockets and they had to build a life from scratch. Not easy, right? Most people could understand that this was rough.
Or maybe one of your parents died when you were young. And then you had to move around a lot. It was always really hard for you, changing schools all the time, and you were the one to babysit your younger sister.
Or a divorce.
Et cetera. Lots of challenges that kids go through. Hopefully yours weren’t that bad.
Now, moving back to the buddy who just uttered the sentence, “I had a horrible childhood.”
Without volunteering the reasons why your own childhood was rough, imagine that he went on to say: “My dad wouldn’t get me a car when I turned 16.”
Did your jaw drop?
Obviously, the details are where the claim of “horrible” is illustrated.
And, perspective is important.
Both of these elements are key to writing good essays.
Not only do you need to back up your claims but you also need that backup to be significant. Noteworthy. Somehow impactful or impressive.
Don’t read that and think that you’re screwed. It’s not like you need to have competed in the Olympics in order to make it into bschool. Your achievements can be on a very small scale.
But they need to be visceral. When you tell the adcom about your accomplishments in the essays, they need to be vivid.
The way you get there is by showing your reader what you did.
Don’t just tell them.