Updated June 2023
The explainer is a useful content form that conveys complex topics simply. This tried-and-true journalistic genre is terrific for top-of-the-funnel B2B or B2C brand journalism, content marketing and sales support.
Here's a helpful example from Quartz writer Tim Fernholz: How to Find the Egregious Double-Counting in Donald Trump's Budget.
How to Write an Explainer
Let's take a look at what makes it work, using the 6 Traits:
We know right from the start what the piece is about and that it's going to show and tell us what's going on. The article delivers on that promise with sufficient explanations and examples from the budget document. Embedded links lead to more details or context if I need them. Learn more about honing ideas and details.
The writer's voice is upbeat and casual, very important for a topic so complicated and potentially dry. That lets me know the piece is meeting me where I am, and not for an econ major. Read up on the elements of voice.
One mistake a lot of us make when explaining is using really long, nested sentences. In this piece, Fernholz deploys sentences of varied length and structure, creating a nice, conversational rhythm. Again, helps me not feel like I'm back in Econ 10 -- or need to be. See how sentence fluency impacts authenticity.
Sure, there's some jargon in here -- there has to be given the subject matter. But it's kept to a minimum so it doesn't overwhelm. It's balance with a lot of terminology non-economists use, which helps me understand the topic and keeps the text from weighing us down so much I lose my stamina and quit reading. Check out how word choice = better content.
The article flows easily from one idea to the next, building the logical argument step by step so we can keep up. Review how to create a logical argument.
It's critical to think about how explainer content is consumed so you can design the text to be more reader-friendly. One of the things I like best about this piece is how Fernholz uses images and call-outs to illustrate the points, show proof and break up the text. Paragraphs are generally pretty short, and embedded links show me where to go if I want a more in-depth information or background. These techniques keep the piece from having any intimidatingly huge blocks of text that can telegraph "boring" or "complicated".
As you plan your next content project, see if an explainer or two would serve your audience and your goals. Then use this framework and example to create a great one!
- How to make abstract ideas more concrete
- The right details
- Content creation and writing with the 6 Traits