Welcome to our complete guide to writing an explanation text. This guide is intended for both teachers and students to make the process of writing fun and straightforward.
WHAT IS AN EXPLANATION TEXT?
An explanation text tells your audience how something works or why something happens.
Explanations detail and logically describe the stages in a process, such as the water cycle or how a steam engine works. Other examples could be how a law is made or why we blink when we sneeze.
Explanation texts are frequently incorporated into other texts, used to provide information which answers questions of interest on that topic.
TYPES OF EXPLANATION TEXT
Not all explanation texts are created equal, and they vary in complexity to research and construct. As such, we have listed them from easiest to most challenging.
- Sequential Explanations – These detail the stages in an event, e.g., how a caterpillar turns into a moth. These are excellent starting points for younger writers and those new to this genre of writing.
- Causal Explanations – Details what causes the change from one stage to the next, i.e., How a president is elected.
- Theoretical Explanations – Details the possible phenomena behind a natural or created process that is not fully understood. e.g. What caused the Nazis to lose World War II?
- Factorial and Consequential Explanations explain the effects and outcomes of processes. They are more commonly used in upper primary and secondary contexts. For example:
- Scientific– e.g. Explain the causes of climate change (Factorial)
- Historical– e.g. Explain the causes of World War 2 (Factorial)
DON’T GET CONFUSED BETWEEN EXPLANATION TEXTS AND PROCEDURAL TEXTS
An explanatory text has some similarities to a procedural text, and these can often be confused; however, an explanation text explains the how and why behind a process, such as
- What causes a Tsunami?
- Why are our rainforests disappearing?
- The process of making aluminium.
A procedural text is about writing logical and efficient instructions to complete a task. It is all about the ‘how,’ whereas an explanation focuses more on the ‘why.’ So as we can see, although they are similar, both text types are very different in purpose.
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STRUCTURE AND FEATURES OF AN EXPLANATORY ESSAY
EXPLANATORY WRITING STRUCTURE
TITLES Which identify the topic of your explanation. You may pose this as a question at the beginning with how? or why?
STRONG OPENING STATEMENT Identifying the process to be explained. Emphasize the process rather than the particular thing involved in the process.
SEQUENCING Use sequential paragraphs or statements describing how or why something happens. Show connections such as cause and effect or temporal sequence.
WRAPPING IT UP A strong concluding paragraph or sentence that draws everything together will add more validity to your explanation.
EXPLANATORY WRITING FEATURES
GENERALIZE Talk about your topics in groups or as a collective rather than as individuals.
CONNECTIVE LANGUAGE Use language which link cause and effect.
GET TECHNICAL & DETAILED Use technical language and terms specific to your subject. Use technical descriptions to crate richer meaning.
TENSE AND VOICE Explanations are written in the passive voice and in timeless present tense
VISUALS Use graphic organizers, labelled diagrams and even videos you are constructing a digital text to illustrate your understanding.
THE LANGUAGE FEATURES OF AN EXPLANATION TEXT
- Use technical terms such as evaporation and degradation if writing a water cycle explanation text.
- Action verbs and present tense such as runs, develop and becomes
- Cause and effect terms such as because of.., due to.., therefore, and as a result
USE YOUR TIME EFFECTIVELY
Using your writing time effectively is really crucial. When writing an explanation, you should aim to spend about one-fifth of your time researching your topic to ensure you know what you are talking about.
Next, take an equal amount of time to structure your writing using a graphic organizer or mind map, which can be found below. If you follow this model, you only need to spend under half your time writing. Your ideas and structure will already be formed.
This will leave you a reasonable window to edit and revise your essay for meaning, spelling and grammar and structure. Using graphic organizers, planning tools, and writing checklists will greatly assist the planning and editing time.
HOW TO WRITE AN EXPLANATORY TEXT
POINTS TO CONSIDER BEFORE WRITING YOUR EXPLANATORY ESSAY
- What is it about? What are you explaining? Are you explaining how or why something happens or are you explaining a process?
- What is the title?
- What are the essential parts and sections of what you want to explain? How would you describe it and its parts? Which parts need to be described as part of the explanation?
- How does it work? What happens first, next, and why?
- What else might you include?
Introduction: Because you are explaining a process, your audience will require some context about your topic. Firstly, ensure you provide some facts and insights so that it makes sense to your audience.
Secondly, You have obviously found this subject interesting enough to write an essay about it, so ensure what piqued your interest is translated to your audience by creating a hook that leaves your audience wanting to read on.
Body: Keep everything in chronological order here to ensure your explanation follows a sequence.
In this section, you want your paragraphs to really emphasise what happens in the opening of each paragraph and then lead into how and, or why things occur using relevant technical terms and action verbs.
Use the bulk of your paragraph to focus on the how and why that will both fill your reader with wonder, and lead them to ask questions about your subject area.
Use connective terms and transitional language that is not repetitive when linking paragraphs. Be sure to read our complete guide to writing perfect paragraphs for further details.
Make sure that you have entirely covered the explanation before moving on to your conclusion.
Conclusion: Use the conclusion to pose and or answer any apparent questions the audience may have on your topic.
Also, feel free to share a very personal opinion or insight about your topic to build a connection with the audience to ensure your explanation text is worthy of their time.
TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT EXPLANATION TEXT
EXPLANATORY WRITING GRAPHIC ORGANIZER TEMPLATE
EXPLANATORY TEXT WRITING PROMPTS
EXPLANATORY TEXT TUTORIAL VIDEOS
Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.
A COMPLETE UNIT OF WORK ON EXPLANATION WRITING?
We pride ourselves on being the web’s best resource for teaching students and teachers how to write an explanation text. We value the fact you have taken the time to read our comprehensive guides to understand the fundamentals of writing stories.
We also understand some of you just don’t have the luxury of time or resources to create engaging resources when needed.
If you are time-poor and looking for an in-depth solution that encompasses all of the concepts outlined in this article, I strongly recommend looking at the Excellent Explanation Text Writing Unit.
Working in partnership with Innovative Teaching Ideas, we confidently recommend this resource as an all-in-one solution to teaching explanatory texts.
This unit will find over 91 pages of engaging and innovative teaching ideas.
EXPLANATION TEXT WRITING CHECKLISTS FOR JUNIOR, MIDDLE & SENIOR STUDENTS
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The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing, can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.