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.

There are three types of explanations.

  • Sequential – These detail the stages in an event eg:  how a caterpillar turns into a moth.
  • Causal - Details what causes the change from one stage to the next ie:  How a president is elected.
  • Theoretical - Details the possible phenomena behind a natural or created process that is not fully understood. eg What caused the Nazi's to lose World War II. 
  • Factorial and consequential explanations explain effects and outcomes of processes.  They are more commonly used in upper primary and secondary contexts. For example: 
    • Scientific– eg Explain the causes of climate change (Factorial) 
    • Historical– eg Explain the causes of World War 2 (Factorial)

Don't get confused between explanation texts and procedural texts.

An explanation text is similar to 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 rain forests disappearing?

  • The process of making aluminum.

A procedural text is generally instructs how to make or do something such as recipe.  Although they appear similar they are very different when compared side by side.

Well labelled images can save you a great deal of explaining.

Well labelled images can save you a great deal of explaining.

The language features of an explanation text are...

  • The use of technical terms such as evaporation, degradation if writing about the water cycle.
  • Action verbs and present tense such as runs, develops and becomes
  • Cause and effect terms such as because of.., due to.., therefore, and as a result


Tips for writing a great explanation text

explanation text planning tools

  • Assume your readers are not as knowledgeable on the topic as you are.  This means you will have to briefly explain your topic before getting into the body.
  • Use an intriguing title that will encourage the reader to continue, such as 'Why do spiders need eight legs?"
  • Use correct scientific and technical terms.
  • Find or create some labelled diagrams if possible.
  • Use paragraphs effectively.  Each new element of your explanation text should start with a new paragraph.
  • Explanation texts are always written in present tense and from a third person perspective.
  • You may offer some form of question or comment around your findings in the conclusion only.  The rest of your report should be constructed purely of facts and evidence.
  • If you use specific terminology you might need a glossary.

Explanation Writing Checklists for Junior, Middle and Senior Students

Click on the images below to download our writing checklists







Short video tutorials on how to write an explanation text