Tips On How To Explain Clearly And Effectively In English

Describing something complex to enable people to understand it is common among speaking situations. While the ultimate purpose of explaining is for others to comprehend, at certain times you may find that the more you talk, the more you’re losing your audience. Explaining is a challenging task, as you have to ensure that it is clear, easy to understand, and engaging. Hence, the ability to explain things clearly and effectively is a desirable skill that you can have to communicate better. To guide you to be able to explain succinctly and compellingly no matter what topic it may be in English, here are useful tips that you can use. 


1. Identify your purpose

There are certain reasons why you would need to explain. It could be to inform, teach, or persuade others. Whatever your purpose, reminding yourself of it while explaining will help you to tailor your explanation based on it. The more your purpose is clear to you the more it is easier for you to explain as you would be able to identify the details you need to present and the most suitable manner to deliver it effectively. 


2. Know your audience existing knowledge and level of understanding

Each individual has a different background and set of knowledge, therefore, when explaining it is important to be aware of your listeners’ education level and worldview. Moreover, knowing your listeners’ existing knowledge and gauging their level of understanding on the subject are helpful to know the best way to explain your idea. Start off with what they already know as people tend to interpret concepts through their own life experiences. Knowing how much your listeners know will also enable you to identify what to skip elaborating and jump into the more significant details. To help you determine their existing knowledge, asking them before you start explaining would help. Some of the questions you can ask are:

“Do you already have an idea about…”

“Have you heard about…?”

“Are you aware of…?”

“Before we start, please tell me how much do you understand about…?” 


3. Be on point to explain clearly and simply

While some may say that you have to explain as you would to a child, it is important to consider that some may not be comfortable with this. When explaining, find the right balance and avoid extremes. Refrain from making your explanation too simple nor too complicated. If you make your explanation too easy, your listeners may think you are talking down to them thus find it insulting. On the other hand, if you explain too complicatedly, they may end up even more confused. When you explain, think that you are explaining to people who are not just well informed. Then explain the subject in a simpler way, and be on point to make it clear.  


4. Explain using in simple terms 

When explaining, use familiar vocabulary that is appropriate to your listeners’ language level. If you use unfamiliar terms, you may lose them while explaining. Avoid jargon or technical words as some of your listeners might lack specialized knowledge on the subject. Although it may be tempting to use these words to sound smart, you may only end up confusing your listeners if you use them. Remember that your ultimate aim when explaining is to make your listeners understand. Impressing them will take place if you succinctly and clearly presented your explanation. 


5. Define unfamiliar terms

On certain occasions, it may be impossible for you to avoid using jargon, acronym, or abbreviation. If you have to use them, make sure to help your listeners understand it. Provide definition especially to those who have a different background than you. Explaining such complex terms can be time-consuming, tedious, and can drive the focus away from the main topic, hence, it is often suggested to avoid using them as much as possible.


6. Break down ideas into manageable parts

People tend to absorb details only so much at a time. We get overwhelmed when we are presented with too much knowledge all at once. Hence, when you explain, refrain from discussing complexities too soon as your listeners will be confused. Break down complex ideas until it’s so easy to explain. Divide your ideas and communicate each fully and simply. Once done with one idea, move on to the next, then present how each part fits into a big picture. 


7. Use transition phrases

Transition phrases will help your listener understand the connection of the details you presented in your explanation. These phrases show order, sequence, and relationship, thus, making your explanation cohesive, and easier to understand. 

Some of the phrases you can use are: 

“The reason for…”

“One possible explanation is that….”

“Let me explain…”

“What I mean is…”

“Let me put it this way…”


8. Be concise

A good practice when explaining is that making sure that you don’t explain more than needed and less than required. Remember that excess in any of it will lead to confusion. Refrain from using long sentences too much and make your messages brief to be easily understood. When people listen to explanations, they tend to pick keywords, hence, it is best to be on point and articulate the detail that the reader is looking for. Omit unnecessary words that may direct the discussion away from the main point or may be interpreted differently. 


9. Add details appropriately

Some may think that providing plenty of details in your explanation, will make your listener understand the subject better, however it may just be the opposite. Having extensive background details may overwhelm, and confuse them. When we see things in a complicated way, we tend to easily forget details because we cannot process and properly absorb them. When explaining, choose the most significant details, then cut out all the unnecessary ones. Also, make it a point to give your listeners ample time to process the information. Introduce another detail once you’ve observed that they already understood and absorbed the previous one. By allowing them to have time to process, they can focus on every single idea and thus be able to remember it. If you give them too many details without allowing them to process it, there will be no retention. 


10. Provide facts and specific details 

Avoid being vague but be more specific with the details you provide. Ensure that you supply your explanation with facts to make it reliable. By making your explanation specific and factual, you will be able to prove your understanding of the concepts while shedding light on a complex subject. The last thing that listeners need is a long explanation that is not meaty and based on facts. Ergo, it is imperative to give facts rather than opinion when explaining. Giving opinions rather than facts on your explanation may suggest that it is biased and less credible. 


11. Make use of analogies

To better understand some concepts, you may use simple analogies. In analogies, you tend to draw parallels. You find similarity in unlike things. Through it, you may explain an unfamiliar concept and compare it with a familiar one. To do this identify first the general principle you want to expound, then choose an example from real life or common knowledge that illustrates that principle. Use shared experience on your analogy to ensure it will resonate among your listeners. 


12. Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal expression

Pay attention to your listeners’ facial expressions and verbal communication while explaining. These can serve as your understanding checks. Through this, you can identify whether they are confused or understand your point. When you notice that they look bewildered, change your way of explaining to make it easier for them to understand. Considering their expressions will also assist you in determining whether you need to slow down, move to the next point, or give them some time to absorb the details that you just presented. 


13. Tell a story

Telling a story is also a good way to explain a subject as you can include emotion among the facts. Also, stories are effective because they are relatable especially if it illustrates a person with a challenge or pain, and eventually figure out a solution. Stories are best used when presenting how concepts work in the real world with real people. However, when you use stories, make sure that you also consider the length you would tell it, and how much details you will share. Be careful not to make the less important details in your story be the focus of your explanation instead of the main concept you are explaining. 


14. Present the causes and effects

Cause and effect is one of the effective and easy ways to explain a complex idea. This strategy is used to show the interconnectedness and relationship of things. It is usually used when explaining topics related to problems, solutions, and outcomes. To do this, describe the current situation or specific events that lead to other events, then provide other pertinent details about the effects of such events.


15. Illustrate with examples

Providing examples is another way of making your explanation relatable and easy to comprehend. If the examples you have given are related to what your listeners have experienced, the more it will be effective. Events and situations that happen in real life are relatable hence can help make any explanation easier to understand.


16. Ask questions to determine listener’s understanding

To check if your listeners follow or understand your explanation, you can ask them. Aside from checking their understanding, asking questions will enable you to get back their attention if you lose it as well as make them think deeper about your subject. Encourage them to see things from a different perspective by asking them a rhetorical question. You can also engage them even more by asking open-ended questions. This will allow them to process the details you shared with them as they provide detailed responses. Meanwhile, if they ask you questions, answer concisely. This gives you a chance to clarify and fill in any gaps that they may have. 


The ability to explain effectively is a desirable skill that you can develop and hone. It can help you to communicate better may it be on your personal or professional dealings with other people. By following the tips given above, you’ll be able to assist more people to understand better. 


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Kaycie Gayle is a freelance content writer and a digital publisher. Her writings are mostly about, travel, culture, people, food, and communication.