Artful Explanation


What’s written here represents a number of years of my bringing together the wisdom of professionals dedicated to explaining complex and important topics so that a great many can both understand and be inspired to act differently. In all my courses, I ask my students to use these guidelines so as to help them explain ‘artfully’.  And in my own writing, I use them as well.  My hope is that we all will continue to develop ourselves as persons who can explain not just for a few but for many and in ways that will make a difference.



The title of this paper combines words not ordinarily combined.  Art is for expression and sometimes for making matters more confusing and dense because, after all, that is how we often experience life.  In doing so, art allows us to experience life more fully. In contrast, explanation is for answering questions about what is confusing and dense.  Writing meant to explain seeks to reduce matters to manageable facts, concepts, distinctions, and points.  As an example of the assumed difference between art and explanation, the artist gives us the myriad colors in a garden of flowers and lets us experience them more fully.  The scholar gives us an explanation of how we see color in the first place or how flower gardens have changed in the course of history, or some other explanation that answers questions about color, flowers and gardens.

But writing can sometimes do both – as when it elicits in us a new experience of a complex phenomenon and at the same time provides answers to important questions – answers needed in order to understand the phenomenon.  When this happens, we get artful explanation. For example, when Lewis Thomas, in his book ‘The Lives of the Cell’, likens mitochondria, the tiny organisms that inhabit human cells, to “responsible lodgers” who should be trusted, we start to experience cells (and cell biology) in a new way. By introducing metaphors borrowed from human interactions (being responsible to one another) and human settings (an inn taking in lodgers), cell biology becomes something human and intimate – allowing many of us, for the first time perhaps, to become open to learning the complexities of how human cells work. In artful explanation, we learn that the dichotomy between art for expression vs. facts and logic for explanation can be a false dichotomy.

If it is not only permissible but also commendable to combine art with explaining, what exactly is the art in explaining?  The example of mitochondria being referred to as “responsible lodgers” suggests one answer, namely, that artful explanation has to do with using the familiar to explain the unfamiliar in an interesting, sometimes humorous way. However, this example is just one of many ways an author can take care to be sensitive to readers’ needs.  Indeed, at the heart of artful explanation is reader sensitivity.

Of what is reader sensitivity composed?  Seven things in particular – first, organizing around thoughtful aims, second, going beyond ‘telling’ in order to explain by showing with narratives and detailed description, third, making comparisons, fourth, giving writing a voice (your voice), fifth, anticipating and responding to readers’ questions, sixth, keeping readers’ interest, and seventh, explaining concepts, causes and how things work using visuals.  These seven will organize the discussion of artful explanation.

  Major Guidelines

Organize Around Thoughtful Aims and in Ways that Insure Clarity and Flow

Both artful and standard, academic ways of explaining hold to a standard that challenges us to be organized so as to be clear and so as to insure that writing “flows” (is not disjointed and hard to follow). Here are several guidelines for insuring both organization and flow while explaining artfully.

Organize Around Thoughtful Aims: The first guideline is to engage your readers, from start to finish, in carrying out a specific aim.  Steven Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, paleontologist, and to many, one of the finest science writers in the last century, wrote “The Mismeasure of Man”, one of the most influential books ever written on the history of how scientists have defined and measured human intelligence.  From beginning to end, the overall aim is clear, namely, that the story has been about mismeasuring, not measuring well. In the title, in each chapter and in each discussion of a historical period, we see this aim featured, and throughout the book we see example after example of mismeasuring – from measuring the size of human skulls to measuring using screening instruments with items written in English used to test people speaking very little English, to analyzing scores on IQ tests using statistical procedures that can be manipulated differently to produce opposite results.  Throughout the book, we are told different and fascinating stories, but together these various stories tell one larger story that explains the book’s overall aim. Artful explanation is not, therefore, about explanation for its own sake.  It is about explanation to achieve worthy aims.

Since the organization of one’s essay depends on having a clear overall aim, one useful exercise before beginning to write is to produce an elevator statement.  Pretend you are on an elevator, and an acquaintance gets on, says she is going to the next floor, and then asks, “So, what are you writing about?”  You have one floor to tell her.  That’s the exercise, to explain your aim in a brief, but efficient and clear way, one that conveys not only what you will be explaining but why you are explaining (i.e., the explanation’s significance).  Discipline yourself to make several edits of your initial draft elevator statement – so that your one or two lines convey clearly not only the aim of your paper but also its significance.  By the time your imaginary elevator companion is ready to step out, you should expect that person to say, “Wow, that sounds really interesting and important.  I can’t wait to read it.” – or words to that effect.

 Organize Internally for Clarity and Flow: One of the sad truths about academic writing, even the writing of famous scholars whose thinking has made real contributions to their fields, is the fact that essays and books are often made difficult to read because they lack internal organization and what it takes to help readers follow the flow of the discussion.  It helps, first of all, if the overall aim is not only made clear and significant but also if it is made clear that the overall aim is what is generating how the essay is organized throughout.  If the overall aim is, say, to explain how children are more vulnerable to suffering from skin burns than are adults, then it should be made clear how the sections on (1) the nature of children’s skin, (2) common situations putting children at risk for being burned, and (3) approaches to preventing children from being burned – how these sections all tie into the overall aim.  In most cases, this means introducing each section by making explicit how the section ties into the overall aim – but this rule does not apply always.  When the sections of an essay clearly tie into the overall aim, the tying into helps establish the flow of the discussion.

Flow also happens or fails to happen within each and every paragraph – so it is crucial to organize each and every paragraph to maximize flow and generate in readers the experience of being carried along by the writing as if carried along by the manageable current of a river or stream.  To that end, it is crucial to organize paragraphs so as to minimize shifts in focus, with focus found mostly in the opening subjects of each sentence.  Take, for example, the follow two sentences: “Probation officers in the juvenile court system often serve as substitute parents for the teens under their care. The parents of the teens may care deeply for their children, but they may not have been able to discipline and monitor their children in ways that keep them safe and out of trouble.”  The focus in the first sentence is on probation officers; the focus in the second sentence is on parents. If the focus keeps shifting, readers will have a hard time following.  So, in order to insure that the discussion ‘flows’ or supports the experience of ‘flow’, the second sentence might be re-written to create the following: “Probation officers in the juvenile court system often serve as substitute parents for the teens under their care. Their serving as substitute parents is much needed because the parents of the teens, though they may care deeply about their children, may not have been able to discipline and monitor their children in ways that keep them safe and out of trouble.”  In sum, this simple change that keeps the opening subject of each sentence the same (“Probation officers….”  “Their…”) can make all the difference in managing flow.

Attending to openings.  Openings have a huge impact on readers.  Right away, readers need to be engaged and on board with the writer’s agenda of explaining something.  This usually is done by crafting an opening that introduces the overall aim in a clear and interesting way – a way made possible when you have done your job crafting a good elevator statement. Remember, the reader will understand your writing better when the reader is clear from the start about what you are trying to explain.

However, some who explain artfully choose to begin with a different, seemingly opposite way, by engaging readers with questions that get readers interested in some small phenomenon that allows the writing to gradually build up to introducing the larger aim. Stephen Jay Gould can help us again, this time as an example of a writer explaining using this small-to-large way of explaining. One of his essays begins by pointing out that locusts of a certain species emerge from their larval state once every seven years.  He quickly follows with the questions “Why seven? Why not five or ten or some other number?”.  Gould’s questions pique our curiosity. We want to read more, if only to answer the questions.  In doing so, we find the answer, namely, that a seven-year cycle fits nicely within the cycles of the locusts’ major predators – insuring that they will be born when their major predators will be fewer in number.

In following his explanation of why the locusts appear every seven years, readers come to understand Gould’s overall aim, which is to explain that a pattern in the life cycle of creatures, such as the seven-year pattern in the life cycle for this species of locust, is apt to have a logic having to do with the survival of the creatures.  In other words, readers learn from this essay that throughout the natural world patterns often have a purpose, albeit a purpose meant in a statistical rather than in an intentional-motivated sort of way.

Show with Narratives and Detailed Description

While being well-organized by being clear about overall aims and managing flow is crucial in both standard academic writing and in artful explanations, only in artful explanation is there the demand for “showing” by providing stories and descriptions and not just “telling”. In academic writing, showing usually means showing your sources and the evidence supporting your thesis or arguments.  More specifically, in academic writing, showing means citing authorities, reviewing empirical studies, providing tables and graphs, and doing whatever it takes to back up a discussion with the evidence needed to make explanations compelling.

However, there is a different and equally important way to show your readers, namely, by telling stories and by providing detailed descriptions that allow your readers to “see” and “hear” what is going on.  In this narrative-descriptive way of showing, you allow your readers to experience something first-hand, so that your reader acquires an emotional as well as cognitive understanding of what is going on.

A narrative-descriptive way of showing uses all the devices found in fiction writing, including dialogue.  Take, as an example, the opening of a paper by graduate student, Jaclyn Desrosier, a paper based on her internship at the Massachusetts Hospital School for physically challenged students, many of whom could not communicate using words.  The main purpose of the paper was to explain the work being done at MHS and how that work challenges the common assumption that residential programs aren’t as good for children with disabilities as are inclusion programs in regular public schools:

Half a dozen adolescents eagerly formed a semicircle around a computer that displayed a software program their technology teacher had created.  Their teacher greeted them excitedly and connected each student’s switch to the computer one at a time, testing each as he went.  When he reached the last child, he exclaimed, “Hi Kate!” then discovered that Kate had two switches on her wheelchair, one next to her right hand and one next to her left arm.  “Hmmm, Kate, I think this one is new,” he said, pointing to the switch next to her left arm. “I don’t know if you’re using it yet, are you?”  Kate moved her eyes slowly, and not without effort, to meet her teacher’s gaze.  “Hmmm, I’m not sure if that was a yes or a no.  Show me your yes Kate.”  He watched her eyes carefully as she adjusted her gaze up, and to the right.  “Okay, got it,” he nodded.  “Now show me your no.”  Again Kate shifted her eyes, this time down, and to the left.  “Great.  Now, are you using this new switch?” he asked as he pointed to the apparatus resting next to her left arm.  Slowly Kate looked up over her right shoulder.  “Well that was clear!” her teacher smiled at her.  “Let me hook up this new switch and we’ll get started.”

 Clearly the teacher here is doing something remarkable, so that we get a partial explanation of what makes this residential program so remarkable. By showing rather than telling, the writer explains much more clearly, thereby helping to achieve the overall aim of explaining why it is a good idea to support residential programs such as the Massachusetts Hospital School for children and adolescents with serious physical disabilities.

Take another example of showing and not just telling – an example taken from Russell Baker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, ‘Growing Up’.  Before writing the book, Baker had found it impossible to explain to his two boys what it was like growing up during the Depression – something that mattered to him, especially at times when the boys lost sight of how lucky they were growing up in the relative luxury of an expensive New York City apartment while attending good schools. His aim in writing the book was to explain to his boys and others what it is like to be poor.

In this example of Baker’s descriptive way of explaining, a single sentence serves to explain ‘women’s work’ in a rural part of Virginia where he spent the early years of his childhood:

They [women] scrubbed floors on hands and knees, thrashed rugs with carpet beaters, killed and plucked their own chickens, baked bread and pastries, grew and canned their own vegetables, patched the family’s clothing on treadle-operated sewing machines, deloused the chicken coops, preserved fruits, picked potato bugs and tomato worms to protect their garden crop, darned stockings, made jelly and relishes, rose before the men to start the stove for breakfast and pack lunch pails, polished the chimneys of kerosene lamps, and even found time to tend the geraniums, hollyhocks, nasturtiums, dahlias, and peonies that grew around every house.

Notice the details and the way the details are laid out one right after the other so as to convey the energy, hard work, and incredible production of the poor women who raised Baker under impoverished circumstances (no modern plumbing, no modern appliances, no money for fine clothes, no travel, no fancy education, etc.).  We see here that the poor can be just the opposite of lazy, incompetent, and stupid. Here, we experience the poor women of Baker’s youth as incredibly hard-working, competent and smart in their knowledge of so much.  Notice too that Baker’s explaining by showing demonstrates his knowing more rather than less than one might feel required to know when explaining by telling – as evidenced by the intimate knowledge shown here of cleaning utensils, foods, household chores, and flowers.

In order to “show” and not simply “tell” when you write, keep the “camera” mostly turned outward.   You can occasionally speak about your own thoughts and feelings. In other words, you can occasionally have the camera turned inward.  But you’ll find that when the camera is turned outward – to describe and capture what you wish your readers to look at and hear – that’s when you will be giving your readers the experience you want them to have in order to truly understand. If Baker had dwelled on his feelings of admiration for those hard-working women of his youth, he would have weakened the experience we readers had of those women – because the camera would have been turned away from the women and onto him.

Make and Show Comparisons

In both artful and standard academic ways of explaining, explaining well also requires making comparisons.  This is obvious in using statistics to explain causes – as when a scholar shows that while there may be an overall statistically significant and positive correlation between children playing violent video games and getting into fights, once we look closely at the data and make additional comparisons, the seeming causal connection disappears – because the significant correlation happened as a result of a tiny group of ‘outliers’ making up only two per cent of the sample being studied – boys who were playing violent video games four or more hours a day.  The telling comparison, then, is between this group of outliers and the rest of the children playing violent video games, not between those who play and do not play violent video games.

But in explaining artfully, we can make comparisons in other compelling ways – by showing through stories and visuals.  For example, it is one thing to say that very young children in early intervention programs need help because of their language delays, and quite another to compare by providing examples of the give-and-take dialogues that are the norm between early childhood educators and the typical two year olds in their care and teachers’ monologues that are the norm when early intervention teachers engage the two year olds in their care.  The examples and comparison bring home the point that language delay, the kind found among children in early intervention programs, are serious and demand our special attention.

Explain with Visuals

Edward Tufte[1] has been a leader in urging us to use exceptional visuals for explaining artfully and not to rely on Powerpoint slides that provide only bullet points and other ways of “telling” but not “showing”. In one of his books, he uses, as an example, the crude, but incredibly useful drawing made by the physician and scientist, John Snow, a drawing meant to help explain the cause of an outbreak of cholera in London in 1854.  The drawing marked the homes where people had died following the outbreak.  It showed that most of the deaths surrounded the Broad Street water pump.  Furthermore, it made comparisons by showing that people working and living in two near-by institutions which had their own sources of water or alternatives to drinking water, suffered no deaths from cholera.  The drawing helped establish that cholera is a water-born disease.  Up until that time, cholera had been to be caused by “foul air”. Furthermore, the drawing convinced others to shut down the use of the Broad St. pump, thereby saving lives.

As another example of the power of visuals to explain, Jacob Riis, a late 19th century New York City reformer and journalist, took the latest technology in photography, a camera that could take pictures in the dark, into dark, rat infested, and overcrowded tenements housing poor immigrant families– to capture the horrible living conditions there.  His photographs provided a powerful impetus for the development of housing codes and the improvement of living conditions for the city’s poor.  Others had spent a good deal of ink on telling people about the awful living conditions in those tenement houses – and nothing changed.  But when Riis showed those conditions in his photographs, that’s when change happened.

Both of these examples indicate the power of visuals for explaining and motivating others to act.  In the first example, the visual helped establish a causal connection between water and a disease.  In the second example, the visual helped arouse, in viewers, feelings of sympathy and outrage that were hard to arouse using words alone.  Together, the examples show that artfully constructed visuals coupled with words can be central to explaining effectively.

Additional Guidelines

Give Writing a Voice

Giving your writing a voice has to do with something basic in communicating effectively. Think of your own experience with friendships and relationships in general.  Who are you drawn to for companionship and conversation? Those who play roles? Those who try to impress? Those who are unsure of themselves? Those who are bland and have no distinctive personality of their own? Not likely.  You probably are drawn to those who feel comfortable being themselves – at least comfortable in your company – and as a result, have lots to share.

The same is true in writing.   Therefore, giving your writing a voice has to do with being yourself and having lots to share.  Doing so has nothing to do with saying, “I think” or “I feel”. It has everything to do with looking within yourself to figure out what you think and feel and then sharing those thoughts and feelings in as comfortable and imaginative a way as possible.

Tom Wolfe in ‘The New Journalism’[2], his classic book on narrative nonfiction, writes about voice or the lack of it in the way journalists wrote prior to the 1960’s. Here’s what he had to say:

The voice of the narrator…was one of the great problems in non-fiction writing.   Most non-fiction writers, without knowing it, wrote in a century-old British tradition in which it was understood that the narrator shall assume a calm, cultivated and, in fact, genteel voice.  The idea was that the narrator’s own voice should be like the off-white or putty-colored walls that Syrie Maugham popularized in interior decoration… a ‘neutral background’ against which bits of color would stand out.  Understatement was the thing.  You can’t imagine what a positive word ‘understatement’ was among both journalists and literati ten years ago. There is something to be said for the notion, of course, but the trouble was that by the early 1960’s understatement had become an absolute pall.  Readers were bored to tears without understanding why. (p. 31)


Obviously, Tom Wolfe has no problem making his voice loud and clear, and, as a result, we readers want to read more – as will your readers when you give your writing a voice, your voice.

The main reason for being yourself when writing and giving your writing a voice is that doing so will better insure that your writing has a distinctive style.  E.B. White [3] said it best when he said,

Every writer, by the way he uses the language, reveals something of his spirit, his habits, his capacities, his bias.  This is inevitable, as well as enjoyable.  All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation – it is the self escaping into the open.  No writer long remains incognito .  (pp. 59-60)


Respond to Readers’ Questions

Even though you cannot literally see and hear your reader, you can still see and hear your reader in your imagination.  Doing so is essential for getting the kinds of cues and feedback you get in face-to-face conversations – cues and feedback that tell you when your reader has questions and especially questions that indicate you need to be more clear.  Don’t assume your reader understands you when you mention some well-known scholar or when you introduce a technical concept that only insiders understand, or when you make some generalization but don’t make clear the basis for the generalization.  Better to assume the reader knows nothing or at least not a great deal.

Here is an example taken from Darshak Sanghavi’s [4]remarkable book, ‘A Map of the Child: A Pediatrician’s Tour of the Body’.  Notice how Sanghavi anticipates and responds to questions thereby going the extra step to be crystal clear.  I have placed in brackets what might well be readers’ questions:

Composed of 100 to 200 billion nerves, the brain as a functional organization was first outlined by Wilder Penfield in a remarkable series of experiments in the 1950’s [Who was Penfield?].  A neurosurgeon interested in epilepsy, Penfield was the first to realize that the brain itself has no pain fibers [Why is this significant?] and thus he used only local anesthesia on patients undergoing brain surgery.  By jolting areas of the brain with a small electric current and asking patients what they felt, Penfield tried to reproduce the auras that preceded a seizure [Why reproduce the auras?]. If a patient felt the aura with stimulation in a particular place, Penfield destroyed that tiny part of the brain [Wasn’t this harming patients?].  In many patients, this maneuver cured epilepsy.  What was astonishing was what Penfield found as a by-product of these surgeries [What was the by-product?].  When he stimulated a specific part of the cerebral cortex, a patient remembered a particular song, taste, or smell from their childhood [Interesting, but what is the significance?].  He discovered that memories have a physical location.  Furthermore, he mapped areas of the brain to the parts of the body they control. (p. 149)


Notice that each time Sanghavi writes something that might elicit a question by readers, Sanghavi gives an answer – insuring that readers are kept on track and progressing toward understanding his explanation of Penfield’s work and, in the process, its contribution to understanding the brain.  Notice too that in this example and in the previous one from Gould’s writing, we see answers to questions about significance, questions such as “Why should I care?” and “So what?” — answers that make explicit the significance of what is being explained and how what is being explained ties to the essay’s overall aim.

Keep Readers’ Interest

Keeping readers interest happens when you follow the previous suggestions by organizing around thoughtful aims and managing flow, by showing and not just telling, by making comparisons, by giving your writing a voice, and by answering readers’ questions.  In addition, keeping readers’ interest happens when you raise interesting questions (as in the example of Stephen Jay Gould’s questions about the locusts), when you insert humor into your discussion, when you profile an interesting character, when you provide an interesting detail in your description, and when you use suspense and surprise in telling a dramatic story. In short, there are many ways to keep your readers’ interest, and you should consider them all. Keeping your readers’ interest may be deemed irrelevant, even un-professional, by some, especially those writing for peer reviewed journals, but in the end, being interesting can make the difference between being heard and being ignored.  Here’s an example of Madeleine Lavender, an undergraduate, using humor to make her explanation of Quaker schools and schooling more interesting.  It is an account of her first time attending “Meeting for Worship” at the Quaker school where she was interning:

The first Meeting for Worship I attended was an all-school meeting.  We took our seats on the floor and my first thought was ’Oh no, this floor is so uncomfortable!  We have to sit here for forty whole minutes!?’  Over the next twenty minutes or so, my thoughts wandered from what outfit I would wear the next day to how many new posters I wanted to buy to decorate the walls of my new apartment. Just as I noticed how chipped my nail polish was and wondered when I would find time to redo it, a second grader stood up to share with the group.  He began, “I was thinking about peace,” he said, “and how there are different kinds of peace, like inner peace, or peace between different countries. And maybe if everyone could find their inner peace, then there would be more peace between people.”  ‘Are you kidding me?’ I thought, ‘that’s so deep!  You, a seven year old, are thinking about different kinds of peace, and I’m thinking about my nail polish! I’ll have to work on this reflection thing.’


Notice that the humor here is not just for being interesting.  It is also for carrying out the essay’s aim of explaining the specialness of the Quaker way of educating children. And notice that the humorous story does this serious job by putting us right there in the middle of that Quaker meeting, by showing.  By showing, we too can experience the power in the Quaker way of supporting children’s moral and character development.

Another device for keeping readers’ interest is telling an interesting ‘side story’ – a story that relates only tangentially to the main focus of an explanation but that nevertheless provides an interesting context.  Here is Emily Brown, an undergraduate, giving us an interesting side story in an essay whose aim was to explain why obesity is such a problem in a great many American urban neighborhoods where the absence of nearby super markets has left families at the mercy of convenience stores filled with food rich in calories, such as the calzone.  Her side-story is about the calzone:

This particular delicacy originated in Italy as an easy way to eat pizza on the run.  They used to be about the size of a person’s hand, sold on the street, convenient for those who don’t have time to sit for lunch. In coming to America, calzones changed from a quick and easy meal on the run to a favorite at Italian-style carry out and delivery restaurants. Instead of being the size of a  hand, they became the size of a head.  Order the Pizza Hut P’zone, a version of the calzone, and try to eat the 1, 220 calorie snack on the run; you’re likely to end up with the spicy pepperoni and gooey cheese on your new sweater. 

Use Poetry and Prose Poetry When Needed

Artful explanation makes clear that explanation often functions to do more than simply impart information.  Explanation often functions to ‘move’ people to have a certain experience and certain feelings, not only to understand but also to adopt a better attitude or perspective needed to act differently.  There is, after all, a dry, data driven way of presenting the crisis that is global warming and another way that gives us the facts but also paints pictures and tells stories about what the future might be if we don’t address the problems of carbon emission right now.  The first way is not at all artful. The second is artful and intended to arouse the emotions and change attitudes needed to launch committed and sustained action.

Poetry and prose poetry do the same – by functioning to arouse the emotions and change attitudes.  Take the poetry of the Bible’s 23rd psalm “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”  One doesn’t have to be religious to understand why such a passage might be far more comforting to some hospital patients suffering a severe illness than were someone to say “Don’t worry, you have people around you who are here for you.” The poetry of the psalm is, in other words, likely to work the intended effect of changing a feeling of despair into one of hope.

Your effort to explain something important may not need poetry, but then again, there may come a time when poetry or prose poetry (that in-between, expressive way of speaking and writing) may feel like the only way to get the job done of conveying feelings. Lauren Fenningdorf felt that way when trying to explain the work and happenings at the Suffolk County Juvenile Court, where she was interning and where urban youth, often from families who were poor and dysfunctional, came to be processed through the system. Overwhelmed, at times, by the sadness of seeing teenagers arraigned and very much feeling the injustice and her own undeserved ‘white privilege’, she resorted to poetry to introduce the prose in her account.  Here is a sample:

What does justice look like?

Is it draped in capes and wrapped in Lycra?

Is it metal bars and keys with no lock?

The one thing that holds steadfast in each courtroom

Is salt water.

It rolls down cheeks and noses on every side

Dripping on to the floor

Adding to the maritime tempest

Shakespeare is no match for this system

Her poetry was not intended to stand as the explanation of the work done at the juvenile court.  Rather, it was intended to serve as a necessary component of her explanation – one focused on conveying the feeling context of that work – or, more precisely, the feeling context she hoped all would experience if the teenagers were to receive the kind of caring response needed from judges and probation officers and anyone else who might play a role in turning young lives ‘around’.



To summarize, artful explanation employs all the devices found in both academic and fiction writing – to explain complex phenomena and ideas in ways that capture readers’ interest and leave readers with a clear understanding of whatever it is that is being explained. In addition, artful explanation may also move readers to act in a different way or adopt a different attitude – because artful explanation gives readers a particular experience that can work on readers’ emotions as well as on readers’ minds.  The key to explaining artfully is organizing around clear and valuable aims and in ways that insure clarity and ‘flow’, by showing with words and not just telling, by making comparisons, by explaining with visuals, by giving writing a voice, by responding to readers’ questions, by keeping readers’ interest, and by resorting to the power of the poem when feelings are central.  The challenge is great. The rewards are even greater.

[1] Tufte, E. (1997). Visual explanations: Images and quantities, evidence and narrative. Chesire, Ct.: Graphics Press

[2] Wolfe, T. & Johnson, E.W. (1973). The new journalism. New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row.

[3] Strunk, W.S. & White, E.B. (1959) The elements of style, New York, N.Y.: The Macmillan Co.

[4] Sanghavi, D. ( ). A map of the child: A pediatrician’s tour of the body. New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt & Co..