Giving Examples

Providing examples can be a great way to add additional colour to an explanation, but analogies and examples serve poorly when they’re left to do the heavy lifting.

Examples shift burden from the answerer to the listener. Unless the example is very directly applicable to the listener’s situation, the listener is required to translate the example into their own context before they can make use of the information.

This both introduces possibilities for misunderstanding and means that the listener’s focus is now occupied with producing a mental mapping between contexts, rather than delving deeper and taking a more considered view of the explanation.

Conversely, an example is usually very easy for an answerer to give - simply recall an anecdote which is relevant and aligned with the explanation. Giving an example requires comparatively less consideration compared with digesting and crafting an explanation from first (or mutually understood) principles.

Examples are a great way to learn, however. A learner who can use their knowledge to imagine examples is well-equipped to apply that same knowledge to problems in the future.

For this reason, one of my aims for the new year is to more consistently provide thoughtful and well considered explanations, not just quick examples.

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