Describing a process
This document describes how to write a process description,a variation of the short report designed to convey to the reader how a change takes place through a series of stages. The process description examines an event over time; by contrast, the mechanism description focuses on an object in space.
Use a process description when your intended reader wants to learn about the action in question. You might use a process description to examine the photosynthesis of plants, the migration of animals, or the impeachment of presidents.
A process description generally involves events that take place regardless of the reader’s actions. To help your reader actually perform the action, write instructions instead (that is, a series of commands: “Insert tab A into slot B”).
In general, break the whole process up into smaller stages, and describe each stage in order. If the process is part of a continuing cycle (such as the evaporation and condensation of water), say so.
Caution: If you are writing a process description for a classroom exercise, avoid writing “helpful hints,” by which I mean a collection of many details that do not need to take place in any particular order.
Brief DescriptionIn another brief paragraph (or possibly the same one as the introduction), answer the question, “How does it happen?” Provide any necessary context (who or what performs the action, and under what conditions; what is its significance?). Give a concise overview of the process. This brief description should stand alone — that is, it should not refer to details, facts, or terms that aren’t explained within the summary. You will probably have an easier time writing this section if you save it until you have written out the complete description. Conclude this section by breaking the process up into stages: “The principle stages of writing process are planning, drafting, revising, and proofreading.” Then, focus on each step in turn.
Step-by-step DescriptionFor each step in your description, write a miniature process description:
- define the step
- state its purpose (or function within the process)
- providing the necessary context, and
- include brief mechanism