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How to Show Rather Than Tell and Write with Connectivity in Your MBA Application Essays

You may have heard the old journalistic maxim “Show, don’t tell,” which demands that writers truly illustrate the actions involved in an event or a story rather than simply stating the results of what happened.

Here is an example of “telling” (results oriented):

“I arrived at ABC Bank and took on a great deal of responsibility in corporate lending. I managed diverse clients in my first year and earned the recognition of my manager. Because of my hard work, initiative, and leadership, he placed me on the management track, and I knew that I would be a success in this challenging position.”

In these three sentences, the reader is told that the applicant “took on a great deal of responsibility,” “managed diverse clients,” and “earned recognition,” though none of these claims are substantiated via the story. Further, we are given no real evidence of the writer’s “hard work, initiative, and leadership.”

Here is an example of “showing” (action oriented):

“Almost immediately after joining ABC bank, I took a risk in asking management for the accounts left behind by a recently transferred manager. I soon expanded our lending relationships with a children’s clothing retailer, a metal recycler, and a food distributor, making decisions on loans of up to $1M. Although I had a commercial banking background, I sought the mentorship of our district manager and studied aggressively for the CFA exam (before and after 14-hour days at the office); I was encouraged when the lending officer cited my initiative and desire to learn, placing me on our management track.”

In this second example, we see evidence of the writer’s “great deal of responsibility” (client coverage, $1M lending decisions) and “diverse clients” (a children’s clothing retailer, a metal recycler, and a food distributor). Further, the candidate’s “hard work, initiative, and leadership” are clearly illustrated throughout. The second example paragraph is more interesting, rich, and humble—and more likely to captivate the reader. By showing your actions in detail, you ensure that your reader draws the desired conclusions about your skills and accomplishments, because the necessary facts are included to facilitate this. Essentially, facts become your evidence!

Similar to showing instead of telling, “connectivity” is another important element of professional writing. Simply put, an adept writer ensures that each sentence is part of a chain—each sentence depends on the previous one and necessitates the next. With this linkage in place, the central idea is constantly moving forward, giving the story a natural flow and making it easy to follow. Although you do not need to write at the same level as a professional journalist, you should still embrace this concept, because it is central to excellent essay writing. With a “connected” MBA application essay, you will grab and hold your reader’s attention.

You can test your essay’s connectivity by removing a sentence from one of your paragraphs. If the central idea in the paragraph still makes complete sense after this removal, odds are you have superfluous language, are not advancing the story effectively, and should revise your draft.

Try this exercise with a random selection from the New York Times:

“For many grocery shoppers, the feeling is familiar: that slight swell of virtue that comes from dropping a seemingly healthful product into a shopping cart. But at one New England grocery chain, choosing some of those products may induce guilt instead. The chain, Hannaford Brothers, developed a system called Guiding Stars that rated the nutritional value of nearly all the food and drinks at its stores from zero to three stars. Of the 27,000 products that were plugged into Hannaford’s formula, 77 percent received no stars, including many, if not most, of the processed foods that advertise themselves as good for you. These included V8 vegetable juice (too much sodium), Campbell’s Healthy Request Tomato soup (ditto), most Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice frozen dinners (ditto) and nearly all yogurt with fruit (too much sugar).”

If you were to delete any of these sentences, you would create confusion for the reader, proving that each sentence is connected and vital.




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