Suppose that we asked to "explain the trend" in the following graph:

enter image description here

Would it be appropriate to just describe the trend (i.e. something along the lines of "it first increases, and then decreases"), or does the question ask for an elaboration on why the trend is so?

In other words, does the verb "explain" in this context imply "explain why" such that "why" is omittable?

  • 2
    It could mean either but "explain why" is the more useful interpretation. Dec 22, 2021 at 10:36
  • I don't think it means having to go into the whys and wherefores of the fluctuations. It simply means describe what you're able to infer from the graph.
    – user405662
    Dec 22, 2021 at 10:39
  • I think many would make the distinction between decribe and explain the trend. If you describe it, the question And how would you explain it? would be logical and understood.
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 22, 2021 at 11:18
  • 1
    It probably depends on the subject being taught, and whether the underlying reasons behind the graph are relevant to the course. If it's a course on statistics or graphs or data visualisation, it may be sufficient to read from the graph. If it's a course on e.g. biology and you're shown a graph of population sizes then you would explain why the population changed. If it's a course on Excel and the graph is of insect populations, you wouldn't be expected to explain the reasons for changing insect populations. (I don't know what the above graph is meant to represent.)
    – Stuart F
    Dec 22, 2021 at 12:22
  • I find it strange that this question is on the verge of closure as being opinion-based. As with many questions on this site, the necessary discussion of meaning or implication is easily based on dictionary reference, not on mere opinion.
    – Anton
    Dec 22, 2021 at 16:25

1 Answer 1


Start with the definition of explain.



to make something clear or easy to understand by describing or giving information about it

You might therefore argue that it is sufficient to describe the trend in the graph (it rises then falls).

However, if the request is part of an exercise or examination question that argument would be a risky strategy to adopt and one likely to earn low marks. You are much better advised to adopt the whole definition. Do not only describe but also give some information about what you have described. The information you give depends on context and your knowledge (it rises because ..., then falls because ...).

This view is reinforced by other definitions, which lay even more emphasis on providing information. For example:

Merriam Webster


to make something plain or understandable

From this viewpoint it is inadequate merely to describe the trend. You need to make it understandable as suggested above.

  • Could you further comment on the part where it says "to make something clear or easy to understand" part of the Cambridge definition? Would saying "it rises then falls" alone really make the trend clear (I don't think this option applies to objects like a trend) or easy to understand (this one does, and to me it seems like it demands for an explanation on what's going on)? Dec 22, 2021 at 12:15
  • 1
    @UtkanGezer Trends may change: in this graph the trend changes from upward to downward. To say it rises then falls is to repeat in words what the eye can see in the graph; the words are a description that makes clear (emphasises) the main trends in the graph. But the description does not deal with the second option "...*or easy to understand*". Understanding can only follow from more information. That is why I argue that description alone is insufficient. Please note the trivial but confusing ambiguity in "clear or {easy to understand}" or "{clear or easy} to understand" in the definition.
    – Anton
    Dec 22, 2021 at 12:28
  • Depends also on audience. I'd expect high schoolers to say there is a rising then falling trend. I'd expect adults to analyze the graph for the peak at 512 bytes as showing that as the sweet spot of the 96.1 amount. Dec 22, 2021 at 14:48

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