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What is an explanation?

An explanation is used to describe how things work and why things happen. An explanation tries to provide answers to questions that the reader (or listener) may have on a certain subject. Explanations are used to teach people new information.

Explanations can:

  •  describe how things work: ‘how does a DVD player work?'
  • describe why things happen: ‘why are there different seasons?'
  • show how things are similar or different: ‘how do fresh water and salt water differ? How are they similar?'
  • try to solve a problem or situation: ‘what is the fastest way to clean my room?'.

Examples of explanations

Explanations seek to answer questions about how things work in nature and in the human world. Some examples of questions that might be answered in an explanation include:

  • How does a camera work?
  • Where do clouds come from?
  • How can I make new friends?
  • What are the differences between types of cheese?

Many different types of people use explanations every day. Here are some examples of different people who use different types of explanations:

  • Doctors explain medical conditions or illnesses to their patients. 
  • Scientists explain things that happen in the natural world.
  • Textbooks explain various subjects, such as how to solve maths problems.

Structure of an explanation

An explanation can be written or spoken. When written, an explanation needs a titleor heading. This will tell the reader what the text is about.

The introductory paragraph introduces the topic with a general statement. This paragraph explains what is covered in the text.

The body paragraphs will use facts to help answer the question stated in the introduction. The body is also called the explanation sequence. This is the most important part of an explanation and should be well organised and easy to understand.

The conclusion ends the explanation. This paragraph is often used to re-state the problem and solution.

Explanations often have visual imagery. This can include photos, drawings, diagrams and charts. Visual imagery often makes the text easier to understand.

glossary of terms might also be part of an explanation. Glossaries are usually used for scientific or technical explanations.

The bibliography is a list of resources, like books, magazines and websites, which were used to help write the information report.

Preparing your own explanation

Before writing your own explanation it is important to establish the question (or problem) that you want to answer. It is also important to research your subject to help you better understand it. Make sure you organise your information so that your explanation is easy to understand. 

When writing an explanation it is important to leave out your personal thoughts and opinions. Explanations use facts to provide an answer to a problem or question. If there are a lot of technical terms it might be a good idea to put them into a glossary.

Always check your text for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Tips for writing a powerful explanation:

  • Decide whether diagrams, charts or illustrations would help to explain.

  • Use a title that indicates what you are writing about. A how or why title

    intrigues the reader e.g. ‘Why do sloths hang about?’

  • Use the first paragraph to introduce the subject and to define key words.

  • Organise your writing carefully. Do the ideas flow?

  • Finish by drawing your ideas together in a concluding paragraph.

  • If you use specific terminology you need a glossary.

  • Interest the reader with exclamations e.g. Beware – Whirlwinds can kill!

  • Reread your explanation pretending that you do not know anything about the

    subject. Does it make sense? Is it clear?