Like when you want to say that you'll tell a short version of something which would alter the accuracy of the original version.

I was thinking of "In a nutshell" and "To make a long story short", but I felt like those phrases did not place emphasis on the "there might be an insignificant loss of accuracy" aspect.

  • 38
    My teen daughter would give the quick take, then pause and say, "-ish".
    – Jim Mack
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 17:43
  • When you say "alter the accuracy", are you saying that you would simply omit some relevant facts (to paraphrase), or are you saying you might change events so they are no longer true (to exaggerate or embellish)? Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 18:57
  • 1
    @JohnDeters I meant omitting some relevant facts (and thus reducing, to a small extent, the accuracy of the whole thing)
    – Ron
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 15:57
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    Basicly, simply put Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 1:05
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    @MadSorcerer "in a nutshell" describes language which is very pithy, that is to say "concise and full of meaning". So while such language will be compact, no loss of accuracy is implied. If anything, the reverse.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 14:56

21 Answers 21


I think you might be helped by roughly:

  1. without completeness or exactness : approximately


This implies that you are giving a simplified version of the facts, one which is not to be held to a requirement of full accuracy or completeness, but which is presented to give a reasonably understandable quick overview.

Note: As user568458 points out, this definition refers to approximately as a synonym of roughly; and approximately is generally considered more formal. Thus it may be useful in situations where roughly might not be exactly appropriate.

  • 1
    ...and also, 'approximately', which is mentioned in your quote, does the same job and is more formal ('roughly' is a little bit informal). "Roughly" is probably a more accurate fit though - "approximately" could mean either "less detail" or "full detail but might not be perfectly accurate", while "roughly" almost always means "less detail". Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 17:21
  • Good point. Let me update the answer. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 17:24
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    I might say "roughly speaking".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 19:34
  • 1
    I may also combine them to have a rough approximate, or you can loosely approximate for extra inaccuracy. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 7:52
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    "Broadly speaking" avoids any perceived informality.
    – user21820
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 8:45

"More or less" could be used, i.e. This is more or less the plan, you go here, you go there, etc...

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    You know your account name doesn't have to line up with the answer you're giving...? Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 13:30

"To simplify."

Or, if too much accuracy is lost by the simplification:

"To oversimplify."

  • Simplify doesn't imply it's less accurate.
    – o0'.
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 10:57
  • True, but it does imply some information is lost or left out. The question is how important/relevant the information might be.
    – jkdev
    Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 15:39

There are lots ways I can think of to say "I'm not going to go into all the details", but not many of them also include altering the accuracy. These are more for starting to explain something to someone, rather than describing what happened to you. (But why would you need a phrase to say "this isn't 100% accurate" then; stories aren't expected to be 100% accurate, are they?)

"In layman's terms" - phrased simply, without jargon. This implies an explanation from an expert to a non-expert, e.g. "a part of your car engine has melted" (maybe you don't have the knowledge or interest for a more accurate explanation), but would not be used for recounting a story, e.g. "Why was I late today? In layman's terms, there were roadworks". This includes that it will be inaccurate, on the basis that someone doesn't have the knowledge to understand a more accurate detailed explanation, or that it's not relevant at the time.

Model - In engineering / math worlds, a simplified version of a thing, which is wrong-but-useful is a model. e.g. "We'll model our ice cream stall as one person buying two hundred ice creams an hour, and then show that we can make it work". Model definitely implies deliberate inaccuracy, for the purpose of making things simpler, not to be deceitful.

"Back of the envelope" is similar - Approximate, rough, simplified, especially of a calculation, estimation or other reasoning. "Do some back-of-the-envelope calculations before all the facts come in."

"A high level description / the high level overview / Executive Summary" - A high-level description is one that is more abstracted, describes overall goals and systemic features. "You want a high level overview of our holiday plans? Australia, the beach, alcohol. Any questions?". A high level view ought to be accurate, but incomplete.

"The Cliff notes" (or the sparknotes) version - A summary of a much longer work designed to allow a student to quickly learn the key points of the longer work. I've only really heard this online from Americans, meaning similar to a high level overview.

"{something} 101" - ("one oh one"). (chiefly US, postpositive) Basic, beginner, starting from scratch. "Geology 101 tells us that you can't build a reservoir on sandstone."

  • 5
    In math/engineering, a first order approximation is explicit about being incomplete. Literally, it means that interactions between two or more parts are ignored (second- and higher orders), figuratively it means that all small details are left out.
    – MSalters
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 22:02
  • Handwaving might fit this list
    – Henry
    Commented Nov 27, 2014 at 7:07
  • +1 just for the "in layman's terms" as "back of the envelope" is a bit obscure, and for the others I would expect them to be more accurate. Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 7:43
  • I hear all of these all the time, though in my own speech I prefer to include the ess in “Cliff(’)s( )Notes”. Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 19:45

These are a few alternatives that come to mind:

"basically", "to paraphrase", "in a nutshell"

All of these more or less say the same thing: that you are going to cut out a lot of the details in order to be succinct.

  • 6
    "To paraphrase" isn't right unless you're pseudo-quoting someone, rather than telling a story or explaining something. Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 11:32
  • 1
    basically is the only one of those three which matches the requirements. To paraphrase is to reword - this carries no implication of simplification at all, let alone loss of accuracy. And language which expresses itself "in a nutshell" is usually being praised for its precision and power as much as its brevity. Again, no loss of accuracy - almost the reverse.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Nov 29, 2014 at 14:59

Sketch. You could use the verb form:

Let me sketch (out) the plan

or the noun

That is a quick sketch of the scenario

I prefer the former. A sketch is a summary or outline and carries the clear implication that it lacks much detail (so satisfies your lessened accuracy requirement).

  • ...and also, 'summary', which you mentioned, does the same job, and is a little more formal and is common in a business/professional setting ('sketch' is a bit of an informal analogy) Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 17:21
  • @user568458 Summary is more formal, but it does not capture the requirement for explicit loss of accuracy. A summary may capture all of the salient points while omitting only the trivia, and still be much shorter than the original description. Your practice may differ, but when I write a summary, I seek metaphor or succinctness which expresses clearly all salient meaning. Any loss of detail is then trivial.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 22:01

"Loosely, ..."

is also a good one.


I usually preface a situation like this with "Long story short..." Implying that I am leaving out a lot of detail but you get the basic idea of what happened.


Depending on the context, "dumbing down" may be appropriate.

  • 1
    Dumbing down is more of a translation than a loss of accuracy by shortening it.
    – Mast
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 12:17

For scientific explanations, I like "oversimplify" (or, for people who would understand the joke, "as a spherical cow approximation").


In their answers, jkdev and Mark suggest "to oversimplify" or "oversimplify" as appropriate ways of emphasizing that "there might be an minor loss of accuracy here." I think that a slight modification of these two options allows a speaker to emphasize the risk without conceding that the simplification involved is excessive (and hence, by implication, inappropriate). In short, I would use

At the risk of oversimplifying...

By using this wording, I acknowledge that I am about to give a simplified account of a complicated situation, and I concede that the resulting explanation may be too simple for some purposes; but at the same time, I emphasize that, on balance (and in full consciousness of the risk involved), I deem the risk worth taking in order to provide a clear, easy-to-grasp thumbnail description to someone unfamiliar with the tangle of circumstances involved.


I tend to go with 'to paraphrase', which was already mentioned by Octopus, but another fun one is, "Here's the Reader's Digest version:".


I like to use effectively since it denotes a causal relationship to the antecedent without addressing what else it may cause (i.e. unintended side effects).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

3.3 = in effect (see effect n. 8): †a.3.a Actually, in fact (obs.). b.3.b Virtually, substantially.


To gloss over:

Glossing over [some of] the details/problems/..., I think that...

Note that with this construction you can specify the loss of accuracy or other difficulty with the idea you are conveying.


I'd say

As a rough idea...

to mean that what I say will be short, easily comprehensible and approximately right.

But the vogue way of saying it on the interwebs, if you're also going to give the full version afterwards, is

TL;DR: ...


One way to put it would be to use the concept of a "lie to children":

A lie-to-children is a simplified explanation of technical or complex subjects as a teaching method for children and laypeople... The word "children" should not be taken literally, but as encompassing anyone in the process of learning about a given topic regardless of age.


Because some topics can be extremely difficult to understand without experience, introducing a full level of complexity to a student or child all at once can be overwhelming. Hence elementary explanations are simplified in a way that makes the lesson more understandable, though technically wrong. A lie-to-children is meant to be eventually replaced with a more sophisticated explanation which is closer to the truth.


If the problem is more mathematically/scientifically inclined you could call it a Fermi estimate


At least among British mathematicians, 'morally speaking' is often used by speakers about to give an explanation that isn't actually correct in a strict sense but gives the right idea.


To expand on the high-level description idea from TessellatingHeckler’s post, there are people (directly or indirectly influenced by the “GTD” school of productivity) who will talk about specific altitudes from which they are providing (or requesting) a perspective of the situation.

Depending on their adherence to (or knowledge of) the system, what they say may or may not fit into the following ranges:

  • 50,000 ft: Purpose

  • 40,000 ft: 3- to 5-year Vision

  • 30,000 ft: 1- to 2-year Goals

  • 20,000 ft: Areas of Responsibility

  • 10,000 ft: Current Projects

  • Runway: Current Actions

Source: The Spill, Understanding GTD’s 6 Horizons of Focus

In practice, people say things like “Just give me the view from 20,000 feet on this.” or “This is just the version from 10,000 feet” to make it clear that what they are talking about is not (and should not be) restricted by adherence to factuality or provision of detail.

This occurs primarily in the world of business. I am also writing from AmE perspective and I’m not sure how international this phrasing is.


I've always called this a gloss on the situation, as in this example:

Let me save us all some time by putting a gloss on this for you.

In doing some research, I've found several reasonably similar definitions, but none identical to how I would personally define the term: A superficial summary of a complex situation, which sacrifices accuracy for simplicity.

  • 1
    In its least complicated meaning, a gloss is an explanation for an obscure term, which says nothing about summary or loss of accuracy. In it's more common meaning, it is a deceptive explanation which hides some true details. So it only means "loss of accuracy" if a lie is being told, which does not seem to be what the OP has asked for.
    – itsbruce
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 22:09
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    @itsbruce This may not match the dictionary definition, but in my experience it's a not uncommon usage. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 22:15
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    @ChrisSunami the idea that common misconception justifies usage is itself a common misconception
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 14:58
  • 2
    @JamesRyan And the idea that the evolution of language never outpaces the dictionaries is a pedantic affectation. Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 15:42
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    @ChrisSunami people misusing words, losing meaning, is devolution. We don't have to accept it reverting back to grunts, through education we can steer where language goes.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 15:47

Here's a well-known one from the math/CS community for a bit of flavor (though it's not common outside these fields):

"To an L0 approximation . . ."

You pronounce it "ell-zero". Variants include "L1" and "first-order". It comes from the use of a Taylor series to represent a function. The L0 approximation is the best representation of the function as a single constant (y=a) while the L1 approximation is the best representation as a single constant plus a linear term (y=mx+b).

Here's from Wikipedia: enter image description here

I personally like this usage since it's quirky and nicely expresses that the following is a simplification, but still representative of the larger whole. It's also nice from an information theory perspective: the higher orders require more information to express, therefore, using this expression is saying:

This is an approximation of the reality. I could be more specific (and thus be more accurate), but it would require more time to relate.

. . . which is exactly what you're looking for.

This post doubles as an argument for LaTeX support on english.stackexchange.

  • I've never heard of subscripted L's being used in that manner. On the other hand, superscripted L's like L¹ and L² are well-known and widely-used references to p-norms and Lᵖ spaces, with L¹ representing Manhattan measures and L² representing Euclidean measures. Commented Dec 19, 2014 at 17:03
  • This might be really common among Math professors and Physicists which are what, about 0.00001% of the population? That's not very common at all.
    – Octopus
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 8:15
  • @Octopus Education in the United States sucks, but not that much. About 1/3ish have a degree and ~25% of degrees are in STEM. Figure maybe 5% awareness and 30% understanding of this and you get about 0.4% to 2.5% of the population that would appreciate it--not much, but flavorful.
    – geometrian
    Commented Jan 9, 2015 at 21:46

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