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4.6: Process Analysis

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    Skills to Develop

    • Determine the purpose and structure of the process analysis essay
    • Understand how to write a process analysis essay

    The Purpose of Process Analysis in Writing

    The purpose of a process analysis essay is to explain how to do something or how something works. In either case, the formula for a process analysis essay is the same. The process is articulated into clear, definitive steps.

    Almost everything we do involves following a step-by-step process. From riding a bike as children to learning various jobs as adults, we initially need instructions to effectively execute the task. Likewise, we have likely had to instruct others, so we know how important good directions are—and how frustrating it is when they are poorly put together.

    Writing at Work

    The next time you have to explain a process to someone at work, be mindful of how clearly you articulate each step. Strong communication skills are critical for workplace satisfaction and advancement. Effective process analysis plays a critical role in developing that skill set.

    The Structure of a Process Analysis Essay

    The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the goal of the process. The organization of a process analysis essay is typically chronological. That is, the steps of the process are conveyed in the order in which they usually occur. Body paragraphs will be constructed based on these steps. If a particular step is complicated and needs a lot of explaining, then it will likely take up a paragraph on its own. But if a series of simple steps is easier to understand, then the steps can be grouped into a single paragraph.

    The time transitional phrases provided earlier are also helpful in organizing process analysis essays (see Table 4.1: Transitional Words and Phrases for Expressing Time and Table 4.2: Phrases of Illustration). Words such as first, second, third, next, and finally are helpful cues to orient reader and organize the content of essay.

    Tip

    Always have someone else read your process analysis to make sure it makes sense. When a writer becomes very close to a subject, it is difficult to determine how clearly an idea is coming across. Having a friend or co-worker read it over will help identify any confusing spots.

    Exercise 4.5

    On a separate sheet of paper, make a bulleted list of all the steps that you feel would be required to clearly illustrate one of the following processes:

    Tying a shoelace
    Parallel parking
    Planning a successful first date
    Being an effective communicator

    Start creating a rough outline of the possible information to include in each of your steps. Consider that you will construct paragraphs based on the complexity of each step. For complicated steps, dedicate an entire paragraph. If less complicated steps fall in succession, group them into a single paragraph.

    Writing a Process Analysis Essay

    Choose a topic that is interesting, is relatively complex, and can be explained in a series of steps. As with other rhetorical writing modes, you should choose something you know well so that you can more easily describe the finer details about each step in the process. Your thesis statement should come at the end of your introduction, and it should state the final outcome of the process you are describing.

    Body paragraphs are composed of the steps in the process. Each step should be expressed using strong details and clear examples. Use time transitional phrases to help organize steps in the process and to orient readers. The conclusion should thoroughly describe the result of the process described in the body paragraphs. See Appendix: Readings: Examples of Essays to read an example of a process analysis essay.

    key takeaways

    • A process analysis essay explains how to do something, how something works, or both.
    • The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the outcome of the process.
    • The organization of a process analysis essay typically follows a chronological sequence.
    • Time transitional phrases are particularly helpful in process analysis essays to organize steps and orient reader. 
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