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The Art of Explanation: Making your Ideas, Products, and Services Easier to Understand by Lee LeFever

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Chapter 6

Context

UnFigure

Like explanation itself, context is a part of our everyday language. It is an important part of making an idea, fact, or story more understandable and useful. Like the illustration at the beginning of the chapter, I see context as a foundational element of communication—it provides a place for people and ideas to come together. Applied properly, context allows ideas to come alive and to be applied in new ways. Unfortunately, context is often forgotten or limited. This makes our ideas appear to be inside jokes, in which the punchline requires previous knowledge.

For example, imagine you are meeting friends for a beer. You arrive to find them deep in conversation. Not wanting to interrupt, you sit down quietly and listen in. Over a few minutes, you gather some information. They're talking about sports, and you hear names such as Chelsea and Arsenal, leading you to believe they are talking about English Premier League Soccer. Then you hear more names such as Barcelona and Juventus. Slowly, a picture emerges in your mind based on a set of clues, but you're not sure how to proceed. The problem is that you have no context. The clues you see have no foundation—they are adrift in your mind, which is working hard to make sense of it all.

Then your friend turns to you and says “Oh, sorry, we're talking about UEFA Champions League, which brings together the best teams of ...

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