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Ministry of Education.


Checklist – Explanation (RTF 27KB) (RTF)


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?)


    • 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)

Teacher Resources



  • Knapp, P. & Watkins, M. Context-Text-Grammar (1994) Text Productions.
    Explanations page 75
  • Wing Jan, L. Write Ways: Modelling Writing Forms. (1991). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
    Explanations - page 50.
  • Derewianka, B. Exploring How Texts Work. (1990). Sydney: Primary Teaching Association.
    Explanations - page 57

Published on: 30 May 2009