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.
|If neglected, pets' teeth will succumb to tooth decay. A simple process is available to all pet owners that will help in the fight against tooth decay. The process outlined will be using a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste, mouthwashes, dental treats, and yearly dental appointments. This process involves both owner and veterinarian intervention....
(This author is really describing instructions for the care of a pet’s teeth. The writer has almost complete control over where each element of the process goes… for instance, do you have to use the toothpaste first, and then the mouthwash? Or do you have to use the mouthwash first, and then the toothpaste? It really doesn’t matter; the end result is that instead of a process, we get a list of “helpful hints”, without a strict chronological organization.)
|When your pet comes to stay at the Happy Hound Vacation Home, he will get a daily grooming and exercise ritual designed by a local veterinarian to keep him happy and healthy. Each morning, our canine guests are gently woken by your choice of music, radio station, or even a tape of your own voice! After a quick mouthwash and a bacon-flavored doggie biscuit, your pooch will be taken out in our spacious recreation area for a breath of fresh air and a few minutes of healthy exercise with an imported Italian doggie ball or a favorite toy he has brought with him....
(Despite the informal tone of this process description, the author successfully conveys the various stages in the process. While it’s true that there’s no logical reason why the Happy Hound workers should give the doggie biscuit before the morning exercise, this document nonetheless reflects an externally-determined order.)
Your introduction should be a concise paragraph that supplies a good sentence definition of the process to be analyzed. Like any technical document, it should state the scope and purpose of the paper.
Defining the process for “Acid Rain: Where It Comes From, and How It Harms the Environment”
|One of the greatest environmental threats to our nation's agriculture is the growing acid rain problem.
(This introduction is too general; the paper appears to be about “threats to our nation’s agriculture” instead of acid rain.)
|Acid rain is one of the greatest environmental threats to our nation's agriculture.
(While this version does properly emphasize “acid rain,” it merely makes a claim about the significance of the subject. We still don’t know what acid rain is.)
|Acid rain is environmentally harmful precipitation that forms after the combustion of fossil fuels releases nitrogen and sulfur oxides into the atmosphere.|
Stating the purpose and scope of the document
|This document describes the process in general terms, in order to demonstrate the necessity for increased government regulation in sensitive areas.|
|This paper cites recent studies by Smith and Jones (1997, 1998) to assist EPA officials with their efforts to determine which parts of the country should be designated "at risk" or "potentially at risk" over the next five years.|
In 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.
For 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 descriptions for any components that may be involved
Divide this stage up into substages, if necessary.
Without being excessively redundant, review the major steps in the process. Walk the reader through one complete cycle, emphasizing how the completion of each stage contributes to the final overall effect.