Is it appropriate to say/ask, 'So in a nutshell, how would you explain this concept?' I just sometimes feel I'm using this idiom rather awkwardly. I would like to use this idiom when I want my students to briefly explain something to check their comprehension of the topic and at the same time intentionally introducing this idiom to them. Any better sentence suggestion?

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    Of course it is; that means you're asking them to be brief in their answer, which might not be very polite depending on the context and situation. The expression is almost interchangeable with briefly. – Færd Sep 27 '16 at 20:30
  • Your phrasing is a little awkward, as it sounds like "in a nutshell" applies to your question, vs being a request for the other party to briefly summarize their concept. "How would you explain this concept in a nutshell?" is clearer, but still awkward. Probably in this specific case one should forego "nutshell" and ask "Could you briefly explain this concept?" But if you asked "Could you explain, in a nutshell, this concept of XYZ?", that would flow fairly smoothly. – Hot Licks Sep 28 '16 at 1:52
  • (As jaxter suggests, normally "in a nutshell" is used to preface an explanation, vs being part of a request.) – Hot Licks Sep 28 '16 at 1:54

It's certainly acceptable to use it as in your example, in order to encourage the speaker to be brief. It's more polite than asking directly that they "be brief" or "answer as briefly as possible."

Another use might be after hearing an explanation or anecdote, when you might want to confirm the facts in a synopsis, beginning with the phrase, "So, in a nutshell, ..." and then recounting the salient points (briefly).

A couple of other idioms that are used for this purpose (requesting brevity) are:

  • "Give me the nickel version/tour" (as in "5¢' worth", or 1/20th of a dollar's worth, and reminiscent of an accelerated tour)
  • "Give it to me in bullet points" (referring to the text format of a slide presentation)
  • "Give me the highlights" (referring to a recap of a sports game)
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  • Yes, I think you've explained it in...er...a nutshell. The other use you mention is not only a confirmation but a recapitulation or recap for short, as in, "Let me recap..." Your example of, "So, in a nutshell,...", works best. – Peter Point Sep 27 '16 at 23:39

The basic meaning of this idiom is, as given by the Free Dictionary, the following:

in a nutshell In a few words; concisely

In fact they also give another example:

Just give me the facts in a nutshell.

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  • Yes understand, I did my research as well. However I just sometimes feel I'm using it(the idiom) rather awkwardly. Thanks. I realized that I certainly need to edit my question. – chesca Sep 28 '16 at 2:51

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