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Explanation Writing


The writer's purpose is to explain how something works or state reasons for some phenomenon. Explanations answer the questions "how" or "why".

Types of Explanation

 There are two basic types of explanation which focus on:

  • "How" (How does a pump work? How does a computer work? How are mountains formed? How does a spider spin a web?)

  • "Why" (Why do some things float or sink? Why is the ozone layer getting thinner? Why does iron go rusty? Why do living things need food?)


  • Explanation writing usually has a logical sequence that enables the reader to build their understanding more easily.  Often uses time vocabulary - e.g. first, next, following, once, then, finally, before, after and these may be used as conjunctions (stir the mixture while you add the flour)

  • The writing illuminates cause and effect e.g. the expansion of the air bubbles in the pancake mix causing the mixture to rise

  • Verbs are important and should be selected for accuracy and impact - action verbs (the mixture rises), passive verbs (the wheels are rotated as the pedals ...)


  • often have a logical sequence

  • use cause/effect relationships (then, as a consequence, so, if)

  • use time relationships (first, then, following, finally)

  • written in the 'timeless' present tense (are, turns, happens)

  • use of action verbs (falls, rises, changes)

  • use of non-human participants (the sea, the mountains, the computers, the engine)

  • conjunctions (when, then, first, after this so)

  • some passives (is saturated, are changed)

  • use of nouns tends to be general rather than specific (cars, boats, spiders, schools)

  • use of pronouns (their, they, them)


Ensure that the topic selected is suitable for explanation writing. Flow diagrams and mindmaps are helpful in determining causal relationships and sequence prior to writing. Illustrations, photos and video footage can also be useful in this planning so a camera is a great resource.

e-Learning tools to support explanation writing


Presentation Tools to mix text and illustration

  • Book Creator is a free iPad app that allows for inclusion of text, images and sound in creating eBooks.

  • Comic and Meme Creator is a free Android app for making eBooks.

  • Powerpoint or Keynote can also be used to create eBooks.

Using a camera to record the steps in a "How to" text will assist planning and can enhance the presentation. Photos can be cropped, rotated and enhanced using free software or apps.  

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