Writing to Explain


Writing to explain is the only writing genre that is guaranteed to come up in the language exam, so it is very important that you revise this type of writing.


Note! It is important that you read the question carefully and make sure you use the correct GAP:   

Genre:         make sure that your answer looks like the right kind of writing: if you’re meant to be writing a letter then make sure that it starts with ‘Dear …’ and ends correctly, if you’re meant to be writing an article for a school newspaper then make sure that it reads like a teen news article, which will be different to the essay you would write if you were asked to write a news report for the Bangkok Post;


Audience:    this will influence two things: firstly, the level of formality that you use, a letter written to your friends will be very different to a letter written to your headmaster; more importantly the audience will also determine the kinds of shared information you can include, a letter written to your cousins might refer back to an amazing family holiday you went on or the embarrassing habits of your uncles whereas a letter written to your Head of Year might refer to things from your Residential, references to the school uniform, the size of the queue at the noodle bar, etc – things that your Head of Year will be expected to know about;


Purpose:      make sure that your answer does the right kind of thing: if you are asked to explain to me how a mobile phone works then make sure that you explain how to use it rather than persuade me that using it is good. Be careful also of the difference between persuasive writing, which argues strongly for one side, and discursive writing, which is more balance, examines both sides of the argument and only offers a personal opinion in the final paragraph.



What's the point of writing to Explain?

·         To inform readers by providing facts that were previously unknown

·         Do this by making clear, factually accurate statements

·         Give straight-forward unbiased detailed information



What conventions should I use?

·         Present tense (because usually you are explaining about something that is currently the case)

·         First or third person (an explanation could be quite informal, depending on genre and audience

·         Connectives such as ‘Moreover,’ ‘Furthermore,’ ‘However,’ ‘On the other hand,’ to join ideas together

·         Specific examples and sources, even if these are just personal anecdotes / common examples that you can expect your audience to understand

·         Use of facts and figures (if you make them up, then make sure they are plausible)

·         Confident tone (to make the essay sounds more reliable)

·         Similes and metaphors to explain using simple clear comparisons that everyone can understand

·         Rhetorical question (to get the reader involved at the start, although not as a persuasive tool)

·         Unbiased, no opinion

·         Explanations of jargon or other technical terms



How should I structure my answer?

Introduction:    clear opening that grabs the reader's attention and makes it apparent why this explanation is relevant to them. For example, if, you have been asked to explain the importance of mobile phones to a group of senior citizens then you might start with a rhetorical question that raises an issue they have often wondered about: ‘Do you ever wonder why your grandchildren spend half of their time heads down, furiously pounding away at the keys of their mobile phone? Are you frustrated when they write ‘2U’ instead of ‘to you’ or CU L8R?


Main body:       plan out 3 - 5 different points about your topic that you think are most relevant to your audience and will need to be explained. Don’t feel you have to explain everything: just pick the most important bits. Each point should be dealt with in a separate paragraph and a detailed explanation is needed so that the audience understands each one – here is where you should explain technical terms, use similes and metaphors to help readers understand new things by comparing them to old things that they have already grasped, use anecdotes, examples and evidence to add depth


Conclusion:      you can either summarise the information you have provided so far or end more strongly on the various things your audience can do now that they understand the thing that you have just explained to them – e.g. the senior citizens can now text their grandchildren as a better way of keeping in touch or challenge them to a game of Snake, rather than just worrying about how they can’t communicate with them anymore.



Hints & Tips:


·         remember to read the question properly and tailor your text to the given audience

·         remember that your audience will already know something about this topic – you can use this as a starting point / way in to your explanation but you should be careful not to explain things that your audience will already know about

·         be direct and concise and focus clearly on the topic you have been asked to write about

·         give specific information – avoid being vague or overly general

·         use transitions to connect ideas and main points (e.g. however, therefore, etc)

·         indentify a key word or a phrase in the previous paragraph and repeat it in transition sentences at the beginning of you next paragraph so points are developed and flow smoothly into one another

·         include background data about the topic

·         mention possible arguments / key issues in this topic

·         answer questions like what/who? why? what for? when? how?

·         remember to explain rather than persuade all throughout



·         use too complicated sentence structures or overly formal words – the point is to make things clear. However, don’t make it too simple because this is a Language exam and you are trying to show off how good your language skills are

·         repeat ideas

·         be too persuasive / biased – the point is to explain how mobile phones work, not persuade me to buy one. Although your explanation can be enthusiastic in tone and in that sense persuade people that mobile phones are a good thing

·         forget the title - often this will be bold and clearly outline the subject your text will be about