Explaining complex ideas simply








The more technical our world becomes, the harder it can be to understand. Yet we must all keep pace, and we must share what we know with colleagues and customers. Our personal success and the success of our businesses depend on our ability to not only explain technical information, but to build enthusiasm for it.

Give them a reason to care 
Whenever you share information, you need to begin by showing why it matters. This is especially important when the information is complex, because regardless of how simply you explain it, complex information demands more effort.

Use a case study or a provocative question to highlight the value of understanding the information. What will the readers be able to do once they understand the complex idea? Why is it worth learning? Once you have their attention, keep it by periodically drawing connections to the value of the concept.

Break it down 
Every complex idea is built on simpler parts. Break them down using a flow chart or infographic. This will give the reader a structure in which to build their understanding. Sometimes a road map with destinations can work or a simple block diagram.

You will likely find this step the most challenging. Simplifying is always difficult, but it is the key to helping people understand. Start with a working model and then write the rest of the content. Having a working model early will help you organize your thoughts and words. You can come back to the graphic later to make any necessary adjustments.

Leverage known concepts 
If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know how important I believe it is to know who you are writing for and what they need. Understanding your readers is essential if you want to explain complex ideas.

What do they already know? Find a related concept that they understand well and use that understanding to help them grasp the more complex idea. This is the foundation of a lot of learning. We build on what we already know.

Leave out unnecessary details 
It can be difficult for people who are experts to recognize which elements of an explanation are necessary. For them, every detail counts. This is likely not true for their readers.

People need to know what they can use in their job. If you analyzed the readers’ needs carefully, you will know which information is useful and which information can be removed. When you invest time in pre-planning, the end results are always more effective.

Refer keen readers to additional resources if you want to, but keep the primary text as clean as possible. Remember, your end goal is not to overwhelm; it is to instill genuine understanding.

Apply the concept 
An idea is only an idea. It doesn’t become real until it is applied. Give your readers an example of how the complex idea can be used in the real world. Better yet, if you have the opportunity to interact with the readers through comments or a discussion forum, ask them to tell you.

Give the readers a reason to care, break down the complex idea into simpler parts, and leave out unnecessary details. If you leverage what they already know and give them a chance to apply the complex idea, they will not only understand the idea, they will be ready to share their understanding with others.

© Debbie Bateman 2018. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.


Leave a Reply