BrownMath.com → Students/Faculty → Show Your Work!
Updated 12 Apr 2013

Show Your Work!

Copyright © 2003–2017 by Stan Brown

Summary: Every instructor tells you to show your work, but surprisingly many students just write bare answers. This page explains what, why, and how.

What Your Instructor Means

Showing your work means, when any calculation is involved, writing down enough to let someone familiar with the course reproduce what you did. If a classmate or your instructor can tell how you reached your answer, without having to guess, you have showed your work.

cartoon: 'I think you should be more explicit here in step two.'

Source: What’s so Funny about Science by Sidney Harris (1977)
(Permission requested 2013-03-24 of sciencecartoonsplus.com; awaiting reply)

Why It’s Important

There are several good reasons:

You may still think of this as an extra requirement. After all, when you’re out in the real world, all that matters is getting the right answer.

That’s true, but there’s a difference between being in the real world and preparing for the real world. (Last I checked, when you get a wrong answer in class nobody gets injured or goes bankrupt.) Your job at school is to learn thought and work habits that ensure you will get the right answer when there’s nobody around to check you. And part of that is exposing your process so that problems can be corrected.

This is so important that I give only half credit for a correct answer that earns a WTCF, which stands for “where’d this come from?”

How to Show Your Work

When solving an equation, write down the equation and then show each step on a separate line below. If you divide both sides by 20. show that. If you add 2x²−3x to both sides, show that.

When evaluating a formula, write down the formula in letters, then on a separate line below show the formula with the letters replaced by numbers. Then show the evaluation. If you can finish in one step on your calculator, your next line will be the answer. If you need more steps, write down each one on a separate line.

Many statistics procedures on the TI-83 involve setting some numbers on screen, selecting a menu item, and then reading off the answer. Remember the principle: show enough that someone familiar with the course (which includes the calculator) can reproduce what you did. Here are some guidelines:

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