How to create a good explainer, explained | by Diogo A. Rodriguez | Notes from the Classroom | Medium

What is an explainer?

An explainer is a conversation, not a traditional article. Therefore, it doesn't follow the traditional structure we journalists use when we write. Explainers must answer questions, but not just any question. They have to be something a "normal" person would ask. I see many explainers that indeed use the questions, but they are in not in service of the explanation. They are there just to be inter-titles.

Why is it important to think of an explainer as a conversation?

Because, as I said before, when you think in terms of a conversation, the logic is going to be completely different. Forget the NYT standard article: this is like talking to your mom, your uncle. By the way, a good way to try to figure how to structure an explainer is to talk to your mom, your uncle, and figure out what they want to know about the subject you're reporting on.

How do I choose what is going to be in an explainer?

The conversation is the center of it. But, more than that, an explainer has to offer something to people who are reading it. It needs to be useful. The definition of useful can vary, but generally, it implies getting people up to speed with the core of the issue -and the impact it can have on their lives. So you should focus on things that will make sense to an audience that might not dive deep and justs want the gist of what is going on.

Is there a right way to write an explainer?

In Me Explica, we created some basic rules. First, no jargon. You have to explain everything and find the simplest words possible to describe something. Don't assume that people know what DoJ, caucus, inflation, Fed, committee mean. I'm serious. It's very difficult to do this exercise, but it is essential. Second, names need context, always. Don't say just "Trump" or "Bolsonaro". It is always "president Trump" and "Brazilian president Bolsonaro". Third, write explainers trying to mimic the spoken language, not the written register. That means you'll write very simple sentences, you're going to repeat words and that's OK. Writing like that makes the explainer more accessible.

Can I create explainers in any format?

Yes! Any format is good for an explainer. But always be mindful that they must be self-sufficient. That means you have to edit the hell out if so it makes sense as a single piece. Don't assume that people will seek further information after watching a short video, an Instagram Story or meme. Most likely they'll be satisfied with that one piece. But always think that it can be an invitation to get deeper. Or a first step towards understanding the broader issues (and even reading more articles about it).

*Diogo Rodriguez is a 2019 Fellow at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY. In Brazil, he created Me Explica, an explanatory news platform that is being incubated at the TN program.