Richard Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning physicist who famously challenged colleagues to explain difficult concepts in simple language rather than “hide behind” the esoterica and arcane language of their fields.  A popular faculty member at CalTech, Feynman was dedicated to ensuring that his students learned the material rather than simply relying on rote memorization of material. Through this career, he developed what is aptly titled the “Richard Feynman Technique” for learning and explaining ideas.

If you’re having difficulty writing and explaining a concept, try using this technique. You might find that your writing will become more clear and distinguished with concrete examples and detail. Substitute the heavy direct quoting with your explanations. This technique also helps identify areas for idea development as well as the areas you need to learn more about.

  1. Pick a topic you want to understand and start studying it: Write the topic on top of a blank page or computer screen. Write down everything you know about the topic. Keep this document open and add to it every time you learn something new about the topic.
  1. Pretend to teach your topic to another person: To avoid over-reliance of specialized language, take the stance that you’re “teaching” the topic to someone who knows little about the topic. Use clear, concrete language here. Acronyms must be clarified, specialized terms explained, and pronouns avoided. Explain the topic in simple terms without quoting outside resources.
  1. Keep your reading active: Read what you’ve written and identify areas that need development & learning.  Go back to the books. Be intentional with this focused reading/learning to improve gaps in your writing. Revisit problem areas until you can explain the topic fully.
  1. Simplify and use analogies. Don’t rely on others’ words (quotes) to develop your content. Explain your material through analogies to simple concepts. It might appear ironic, but this step will deepen your understanding.

Richard Feynman

            (May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988)

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

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