Posted on

How to make difficult concepts easier to understand

One of the most valuable attributes of a successful textbook author is their ability to present complex concepts in an effective and efficient format.

Mariëlle Hoefnagels, author of Biology: Concepts and Investigations, recommends textbook authors make listening to students a top priority when trying to explain a difficult concept. “Either listen in as students discuss difficult concepts with one another, or ask a student to explain the subject to you,” she said. “Pay close attention to the parts that confuse the students, then make sure the narrative and illustrations in your book confront those potential points of confusion.”

Michael Levitzky, author of Pulmonary Physiology, shares some additional strategies for better explaining difficult concepts:

  •  Build the explanation. Break it into eassier-to-understand steps and present the ideas in logical order.
  • Avoid intuitive jumps. Don’t avoid any steps in a process because they are obvious to you; students may not have the intuition to jump from point to point, so be sure to explain every step.
  • Keep your writing simple. Use short sentences, avoid using confusing subordinate clauses, and keep the language simple when possible. If you must use jargon and abbreviations, recapitulate definitions for these terms periodically.
  • Highlight and define key terms. Use boldface or italics to alert students to the use of a new term, and be sure to define these new key terms precisely.
  • Keep figures and diagrams simple.
  • Use analogies carefully and sparingly. Analogies can be confusing rather than helpful if they are not carefully selected.