WHAT IS PROCESS?
Process or instruction writing demonstrates how something
functions or shows readers how to accomplish a task in a step-by-step
EXPLAINING HOW SOMETHING WORKS
Many of your college textbooks contain both types of process
writing. A biology book, for example, will discuss how the
liver functions as a process. An economics book might explain
inflation as a process, showing how one event
leads to another. The progressive nature of a disease is often
described as a process, as is the way a nuclear reactor generates
energy. Any complex process -- the creation of the solar system
or a choreography routine -- is easiest
to understand when broken down into separate steps. The operation
of an anti-drug community effort can be explained as a process:
Drugs have always been a problem on the Northside. But in
the last three years, the number of drug houses has proliferated.
Vandalism, arson, burglaries, and drive-by shootings have
increased, destroying the tranquillity of a once quiet middle-class
neighborhood. To stem the tide of criminal activity the Northside
Community Organization (NCO)
and the police department launched Citizens Against Pushers
CAP operates very simply. If community members observe suspicious
activity on their blocks, such as a large influx of strangers
entering a house or the odor of chemicals used in drug production,
they call 555-7500. Realizing that people often feel reluctant
to talk to police, CAP calls are answered by community volunteers
who record and assemble essential information.
When several people independently report suspicious activity,
the volunteers alert the police. In many instances,
they are able to supply descriptions and license plate numbers.
Officers on routine patrol are asked to provide greater surveillance
of suspected drug houses. If they confirm the community report,
undercover officers are summoned. Posing as passersby,
police officers in street clothes will attempt to buy drugs.
Often officers in other vehicles will video-
tape drug transactions for evidence. In many cases, the undercover
officer will haggle about prices or
discuss other illegal activities such as stolen credit cards
to gain as much information as possible. Officers try to see
as much as possible, checking for weapons, high security doors,
or the presence of children.
If the officer makes a drug purchase, he or she will take
the sample to the police station or a mobile police lab for
testing. If the substance tests positive, the police will
obtain a search warrant and raid the house as soon as possible.
Because drug houses have lookouts, the police raiders rarely
use police vehicles. Lookouts can quickly spot a plain-looking
Dodge as unmarked car. Instead of racing to the scene, officers
in civilian clothes slowly take up positions posing
as deliverymen, young couples talking outside a tavern, or
a street repair crew.
The largest raid occurred last October when half a dozen officers
swept in on a heavily fortified crack house. Two officers
arrived in a tow truck and blocked the street as they pretended
to service a disabled car. A minute later four officers in
a painter's truck pulled into the driveway of a neighboring
house. Using ladders from the truck, they were able to scale
the drug house and enter the second floor while the tow truck
operators battered through the front door. Seven people
were arrested. Six kilograms of cocaine and two hundred thousand
dollars were seized. CAP is bringing hope to one of the city.
s bleakest neighborhoods.
The other type of process writing directs readers to perform
a series of tasks leading to a completed project or procedure.
Written directions instructing you how to register for classes,
operate a computer program, change a tire, or bake a cake
are all examples of instructional process writing. It is often
helpful to use numbered steps, bold type, underlining,
and other visual aids to make your document easier to use:
APPLYING FOR A PA GRANT
Pacific Arts (PA) is a century old foundation, formed by the
Bergman family to benefit California writers, musicians, and
artists. Any California resident over eighteen is allowed
to apply. Applications are accepted from January to
The board of directors reviews applications, conducts interviews,
and analyzes work samples from June to September. Grants
are announced in early October.
If you are interested in applying, follow these
1 Obtain a grant application by writing to Pacific Arts Foundation,
5 Montgomery Street,
San Francisco, CA 94105.
2 Fill out the application and attach proof of California
residence such as a photocopy of
a driver's license or state ID.
3 Attach a work sample which can consist of a 20,000
word document, a videotape, or
Applicants may apply only once every five years, so make sure
you select your best work.
SELECTING TOPICS FOR PROCESS ESSAYS
If your instructor does not assign a topic, you might consider
one of the following items. Select a topic, then explore its
possibilities using one or more prewriting strategies:
Explaining How Something Works
How a bank processes a mortgage application
The way your employer hires and trains staff
The way police and fire departments respond to 911 calls
How digital television operates
A biological, chemical, or psychological process you learned
in another course
The way a former employer handled employee or customer complaints
How a specific diet lowers a person's weight, body fat, or
The process of a medical disorder
How a local branch of government operates
The way your college assigns housing, funds teams, or helps
graduates find jobs
The way players are drafted or selected in the NFL, NBA, or
another other sport
The way infants or small children develop physically or emotionally
How your church, employer, or campus organization conducts
meetings or elects officers
How to cook in a wok
How to apply for a student loan
How to use credit cards carefully
A step by step program to lose weight, improve memory, or
The best way to purchase a new or used car
How to select a lawyer
How to respond in a specific emergency such as confronting
a heart attack victim or
a choking child
Step by step instructions to caring for a pet, child, musical
or technical instrument
How to protect a computer against viruses
Tips to enhance personal safety against muggers
The best way to respond to sexual harassment
Precautions to prevent food poisoning
Methods of upgrading a computer system
Best way of investing money for short or long term goals
Developing a topic for process writing can be challenging.
Avoid writing about simplistic topics such as changing a tire
or making a sandwich. College instructors expect even a set
of directions to demonstrate intellectual rigor.
CONSIDER YOUR EXPERIENCES AND KNOWLEDGE
Think of jobs you have had, places you have lived, sports
you have played, or decisions you have made. If you worked
in a restaurant, you can explain how restaurants buy food,
dispose of waste, manage costs, design menus, or train employees.
If you lived in New York City or on a farm, you explain a
local issue or problem. Give directions for using the subway
or caring for horses. If you have played soccer, you can explain
how the game is scored or give tips for improving a specific
skill. If you recently bought a car, selected a daycare center
for your child, or purchased insurance you can provide tips
based on your research and insights.
NARROW YOUR TOPIC TO MAKE IT MANAGEABLE
Process essays must be detailed to be effective. A two to
four page paper cannot provide sufficient detail about retirement
planning. You may have to choose a specific investment --
mutual funds, 401K plans, or bonds. You can give directions
for the Heimlich maneuver but not CPR which has to be taught
in an approved class.
ESTABLISH A CLEAR GOAL
A process paper does not simply describe or discuss an issue
-- it has a specific goal. It will either teach readers about
a specific subject or direct them to complete a task.
DEVELOP A TIMELINE
Most processes occur over time. Writing a timeline can help
outline steps in the process.
* Clearly identify a beginning and ending of the process.
Some processes such as programming a VCR have obvious starting
and ending points. But if you give directions on how to counsel
a friend with a drug or alcohol problem, you
would have to clearly define when this advice is needed.
* Break the process into logical steps. Do not emphasize minor
points by isolating them in separate steps or minimize
important ones by merging them with too many others.
* Make sure your essay will be self-contained. Readers should
be given complete instructions. You may refer to other sources
for additional information, but readers should be able to
rely on the main document.
STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVING PROCESS WRITING
CLEARLY IDENTIFY YOUR AUDIENCE
Determine the extent of your readers' background knowledge,
interests, or misconceptions. Define any new or commonly misunderstood
TELL READERS WHAT NOT TO DO
Give negative instructions. Tell readers what not to do, especially
if you know people tend to skip difficult steps, take shortcuts,
or substitute cheaper materials.
CLEARLY LIST SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS AND HAZARDS
Do not assume that everyone understands the dangers involved
using chemicals or working with power tools. In giving instructions
to employees and customers, you assume a legal liability.
NUMBER STEPS AND USE VISUAL AIDS
Directions written in numbered steps are easier to follow
than conventional paragraphs.
Consider including graphs, charts, diagrams, and other visual
USE PEER REVIEW TO CHECK YOUR PAPER
Because it is easy to overlook steps, it is important to have
other people read your paper.
Ask friends or fellow students if they understand the process
or could follow the directions.
BEFORE SUBMITTING YOUR PAPER, REVIEW
1. Does the paper have a limited topic? Do you try to explain
2. Do you define key terms or provide readers with needed background
3. Do you alert readers to potential problems or possible
changes they might mistake for errors?
4. Is the paper easy to read?
5. Are directions presented clearly? Do you use numbered
points or graphs? Remember, readers
may be working while referring to the document. Does
it communicate at a glance?
6. Are potential hazards clearly explained?
7. Have you checked the document using peer review?