The art of explaining stuff


28 April 2011 Last updated at 13:33 GMT
By Denise Winterman and Megan Lane BBC News Magazine

2011年4月28日格林尼治標準時間 13:33最後更新於
由Denise Winterman 和 Megan Lane 發表於英國廣播公司新聞雜誌

Explanations of the AV electoral system tend to resort to analogies. But is this the best way to convey new ideas? The Magazine seeks tips from a teacher, a scientist, a philosopher, a cricket buff and two political boffins.


It’s a bit like X Factor – only without the singing, and it doesn’t go on for weeks. It’s also a bit like choosing your favourite crisps, and then your second favourite flavour, and so on.

這有點像是《X Factor》(是英國獨立電視台第一台(ITV1)的歌手選拔節目,比賽模式與美國同類節目《美國偶像》相彷)- 只是沒有歌聲,也不持續幾星期。這也有點像選擇你最喜愛的薯片,再來第二是你喜愛的口味,等等。

Ahead of the 5 May referendum on whether to adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system, those explaining this unfamiliar method of picking MPs tend to use analogies. But is this the best way to convey a concept to someone who knows nothing about it?


Author and award-winning teacher Phil Beadle says in a classroom, the key to getting information across is breaking it down into small, manageable chunks, checking each chunk has been understood and “grinding repetition". This isn’t so easy to do in a three-minute news item, but other key methods are universal.


The BBC’s Ben Wright uses an Oscars analogy

This includes getting people to see how the issue in question relates to them.



“It’s been said about teaching that if you can’t get students to see what’s in it for them, then you won’t take it on," he says. “Good teaching is about contextualising learning, connecting it to experience, finding an appropriate analogy."

“這是說,使用教學時,如果你的方法你不能讓學生看見蘊含的意義,你就別採用此種方式。”他說。 “好的教學是關於脈絡化的學習,將它連接到的經驗,並找到一個恰當的比喻。”

Obviously, the larger the group of people, the more general the analogy has to be, hence the use of crisp flavours or reality TV to explain AV. Beadle, a secondary school English teacher, has used hip hop artists to teach William Blake and football in other lessons.


How AV works – without the analogies
Av制度如何運作- 不用類比法

• Voters to rank candidates in order of preference
• If no candidate gains 50% of the vote, candidate with the least votes is eliminated
• And their voters’ support is switched to their second choice Repeat until one candidate has 50% or more

•如果沒有候選人獲得 50%的選票,得票最少的候選人被淘汰
•重複選擇,直至有一名候選人獲得 50%以上

Beadle says there is a school of thought that people learn and take in new information in three ways: visually, aurally and kinaesthetically – through the body. The latter is when you learn by carrying out a physical activity, rather than just listening or watching a demonstration by someone.


“The best way to get people to understand is to use all these three ways," he says.
This three-pronged approach appeals to John Stern, editor of The Wisden Cricketer magazine.


He prefers to explain cricket while watching a match for demonstration purposes, and with a ball and bat to hand so the novice can see and feel how, for example, the seam affects the movement of the ball.


Pupils use a favourite pop star vote to explain AV
小學生使用票選最受歡迎的流行音樂歌星來詮釋 AV制度

“I start with the basics – two teams of 11, each trying to score more runs than the other. But it quickly descends into caveats and qualifiers, which is too confusing.
“我從基礎開始 – 二隊 11個,每個人都想比對方以更快的速度運行。但很快的因警告和限定變慢,預選賽太混亂。
“But I do explain the underlying concept, that the bowler is trying deceive the batter. If you understand why it matters that the ball swings, that helps."


He avoids analogies, as these tend to obscure more than they illuminate.


“It’s tempting to say ‘do you know anything about baseball’, but really the only similarity is that there’s a bat and a ball."


As a science journalist, Quentin Cooper has to explain some very complicated things to a diverse audience. He says the key is knowing what facts you can leave out.


“You need to give them only what they need to know and point them to what they need to focus on," says Cooper, who presents BBC Radio 4’s Material World. “If you are explaining some aspect of quantum physics, you can’t start with what an atom is, it would take far too long.

BBC第 4台廣播物質世界的主持人庫珀說:“你只給他們需要知道和指引他們所需要關注的”。 “如果你解釋了某些量子物理方面,你就不能以”原子是什麼”開始 ,這需要花太多時間。

“Take DNA. Most people probably couldn’t give a full explanation of what it is, but they know enough to understand when it is mentioned."



Stern agrees. He leaves out strange terminology, such as names of the fielding positions. “None of that is important. There are so many weird and bizarre things about cricket, you could make up what you like and the novice wouldn’t know the difference."

斯特恩表示贊同。他避免一些奇怪的術語,例如防守位置的名稱。 “那沒有很重要的。有這麼多關於板球古怪,荒誕的事情,你可以填補你喜歡的,新手不知道他的區別。”

It’s also crucial the audience has faith in the person doing the explaining, says Cooper.
“It means not everything has to have a direct relevance to their life. With science it’s often hard to say that something has a direct bearing on a person’s life, but you can get them to think about the wider universe they live in and wonder how it works."



Keep it simple

The BBC’s Michael Crick plays it straight in his own AV explanation


Philosopher Mark Vernon says the approach of connecting ideas to what people already know goes back to Socrates.


“He once explained a very complicated mathematical theory to an uneducated slave. He did so simply by prompting the slave, step by step, with things he already knew. So it’s not so much explaining that you do, but helping someone to remember what they already know from other parts of life.


“Then they will regard what you’ve shown them as their own possession too, and be able to incorporate it directly into their lives."

University of Reading politics lecturer Dr Alan Renwick uses reality TV to explain voting systems – X Factor for AV and Britain’s Got Talent for first past the post.

雷丁大學政治系講師艾倫博士倫威克使用真實電視解釋投票系統 – X Factor的另類投票和英國的選秀用得票最多者當選的選舉體制得到人才。

“Most people don’t think about electoral systems, but they do make decisions every day and are constantly engaging with different ways of making these decisions.


Prawn cocktail v cheese and onion in an AV run-off
鮮蝦冷盤v奶酪洋蔥用 AV方式舉行投票

“People are used to the concepts, but not the context. AV is an unfamiliar voting system. But the logic of AV is similar to X Factor."

“人們對概念而不是來龍去脈習慣。AV是一個陌生的投票制度。但AV的邏輯與X factor類似。

Fellow psephologist John Curtice prefers not to use analogies, as comparisons are blunt and, in some cases, misleading.

” 選舉學研究員約翰科蒂斯不頃向使用類比法,因為比較法將減低效應,在某些情況下,甚或會誤導。

Instead, he breaks his explanations into practical chunks.


“There are always two things voters need to know about a voting system – how the ballot paper is filled out, and how the seats are allocated. I would just simply explain these two aspects of the system."

“總有兩件事情是選民需要了解的投票系統 – 如何填寫選票,以及如何分配席位。我只是簡單地解釋這兩個方面的制度。”

It’s what some call the KISS approach – keep it simple, stupid.
這就是一些人所說的KISS 理論 – 保持簡易,若愚似的。