How to write an explainer.

“Explain like I am a five-year-old,” (ELI5) is an oft-heard statement in the start-up circles. For the uninitiated, it means “break your concept/idea down to the bare minimums, good enough for a child to understand.” Explainers work around a similar concept. 

The main aim of putting together an ‘explainer’ write-up is to enlighten the reader about something. It can be the most basic of information, or it can be something advanced or technical, based on the target audience. 

Personally, writing an explainer is an exercise in seeking knowledge. To put an explainer together, the writer needs to have in-depth knowledge about the topic. They can choose to acquire it by extensive reading, questioning experts or talking to those who will stand impacted by the said topic. 

That is not to say that an explainer can condescend to the reader. ELI5 is just another variation of “write like it can be understood by the town barber and the Mayor”. The beauty lies in simplicity.

Now, to writing itself, there are several ways in which one can write an explainer. It can be in a question-answer format or one with a lot of tiny sub-heads or one with just bullet-points, you get the idea. I am a fan of the question-answer format, because I feel it is a lot more informal that way. But hey, whatever works for you. 

Another good thing about an explainer is that it can be as long or as short you want it to be. You will have the creative liberty to break a topic into several aspects and write an explainer on each of those aspects. There are no rigid rules to be followed. The important point is to ensure that the reader closes the browser tab a bit more knowledgeable than he was when he clicked on your URL.


Written by Megha Kaveri, who is a journalist, working for The News Minute. Based out of Chennai, she has been working as a reporter for over two years. When not working she thrives on music, memes, books and food.

Some of Megha’s explainers: 

Ranjani’s note: While Megha writes from her journalism experience, absolutely anyone can do this. For instance, while writing process documents within emdash, I use a similar process. While writing briefs for your designers, you can use this. Explainers are a great way to teach people things, whatever you want to teach in your everyday life.