Only three steps and you’re master of elaboration!

By Hikaru Sanouchi

Elaboration: The process of developing or presenting a theory, policy, or system in further detail. (from

The word elaboration is from the late Latin word, elaborationem. Labor played an important role in the word elaboration, as we can physically see the word “labor” in this word. When we imagine the word labor, we would imagine labor work, which is physically hard work people do, for instance yard work, construction, and such. Currently, elaboration means to work out a problem in more detail and depth.

That is it for elaborating on the word elaboration. Here, I’m going talk about using elaboration in psychology.  Elaboration is the process of incorporating new information with an old idea. According to Yang (1995), a goal of elaboration is to, “make learning more meaningful by forming a relationship between the new, unfamiliar material and the new the older, already learned information” (Yang. 1995. P,3). Creating a connection between your new knowledge and old knowledge to understand the information in more depth is the goal (1).

1, Tried to study with my friends but…

Before exams or quizzes, professors often recommend studying with your classmates or friends. This is a common situation you may experience often, you meet up with your friends outside of class, but you don’t know what you guys are supposed to do to study for the exam and sit around in awkward silence. Have you ever experienced a study session with your friends and ended up just laughing at funny memes you find online? Because I sure have so many times. But here is a way you can actually study with your friends!

Donnell et al. divided participants into two groups.  One was the recall group and the other was the listening group. In this experiment, the recaller recalled the material they had read and the listener tried to find errors in the recall. Both groups played an important role in developing elaboration. This relates to studying because one friend can recall information from your textbook or notes and you can listen and correct them if they are wrong, like study detectives. You can do this a few times and switch the roles between each other. And after all that, you can see yourself understanding the materials in more depth and learning them (2).

2, Different types of elaborations

Etymological Elaboration: etymology is the study of origin and history of words. Understanding the origin and history of words helps with vocabulary learning, because you understand the original form of the word and what the meaning of that form was. In another study, the experimental group performed better on the word quiz than the control group, who didn’t use etymological elaboration (3). I hope this reminds you of the introduction of this blog and you have a better understanding of elaboration. You probably felt strange when I started my blog with the origin of the word. However, don’t you feel like you get the concepts of elaboration from the word origin development of the word? Studying is time consuming and it definitely takes time just researching the history of a word and understanding it. I am confident that I won’t forget the word elaboration, however, if you are a procrastinator like me… maybe it is not the best thing to do the night before.

Pictorial Elaboration: This includes using visual illustrations or pairing images for a word (3)(4). Arei and Salimi (2012) tried doing this with songs and the keyword method. They found out that pictures are the most effective on idiom learning. When little kids memorize words with a little illustration that is not them just being cute. They are using elaboration…! From personal experience, I draw illustrations related to words and that helps me a lot before an exam. I didn’t have to make a word card or anything but just from looking at my notes it brought back memories from class and that made it easier to memorize the material.

*Those two forms of elaboration will be effective when you have to memorize words and terms rather than understanding the material in your text.

Minimalist Approach vs. Maximalist approach: The minimalist approach is learning from summarizing the material. Researchers found that students perform better after they study with summarizations of the text. Benefits of learning with summaries are someone can maintain that information from 20 minutes to 12 months.  On the other hand, the maximalist approach is not beneficial for retaining information, however, it creates more interest and credibility (1).

I DO NOT want to recommend this, but if you procrastinate and are about to pull out your all-nighter strategy, you maybe want to use the minimalist approach.

3, Why is elaboration cooler than other learning strategies?

Elaboration is cooler and better than other learning strategies, because elaboration works for EVERYONE. Kee at al. (1972) conducted a research with four different ethnic groups (black, Chinese-American, Latino-American, & white) (5) and Haghshenas et al. used Iranian participants (3). There are more than five ethnic groups who have been used in experiments, so it is safe to say there is enough cultural sensitivity on elaboration studies. You are worried because English is not your first language and you are not as fluent in it, but that is okay because elaboration works throughout any language! Kee at al. found that pictorial elaboration is effective for learning people, who are bilingual, so when you are studying something with your second language, I recommend using pictures and images that relate to your material.



1)Yang, F. (1995). The Effects of Elaboration on Self-Learning Procedures from Text.

2) O’donnell, A. M., Dansereau, D. F., Rocklin, T. R., Hythecker, V. I., Lambiotte, J. G., Larson, C. O., & Young, M. D. (1985). Effects of elaboration frequency on cooperative learning. Journal of Educational Psychology77(5), 572.

3) Haghshenas, M. S. M., & Hashemian, M. (2016). A Comparative Study of the Effectiveness of Two Strategies of Etymological Elaboration and Pictorial Elucidation on Idiom Learning: A Case of Young EFL Iranian Learners. English Language Teaching9(8), 140.

4) Kee, D. W., & White, B. R. (1977). Children’s noun-pair learning: Analysis of pictorial elaboration and memory instruction effects. Child Development, 674-677.

5) Kee, D. W., & Rohwer, W. J. (1972). Elaboration and Learning Efficiency in Four Ethnic Groups.

3 Replies to “Only three steps and you’re master of elaboration!”

  1. I love the way that you started off with the origin of the word and explained that. Going into this discussing the different types of elaboration and giving examples of each is very helpful as well. I also like that at the end you share how elaboration is able to be used by everyone and give an example of a study that proves it. Not all study techniques can be used by just anyone so it was interesting to see that there was a study that focused on that.

  2. Great post! I found it to be informative and engaging. I especially liked your incorporation of etymological elaboration. My two years of Latin in high school has definitely helped when learning medical terminology. I agree that learning the roots/origins of words and their definitions makes for more efficient studying.

  3. You did a great job. It helps the reader knowing the definition first. I think that captures attention as well. You explained the different types of elaboration so anybody can understand what it means! Your memes are also attention getting. The titles of your different sections are also attention getting to get the student to continue to read.

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