"How is this done? How can I do this?"-- These questions guide authors as they describe processes. Learn how to write instructions and processes so that readers know how to do something or understand how something is done. By viewing sample process texts, note the focus on the objective voice, numbered steps, visual rhetoric, and clever animations or video. Write a descriptive or prescriptive process report.
There are three types of process texts:
- Descriptive processes answer "How is this done?" These texts describe how a process occurs so that readers can understand it better.
- Prescriptive processes are instructions; they explain "How can I do this?" In other words, they prescribe how something should be done so that readers can do it.
- Blended descriptive and prescriptive processes make the main thrust of the document a descriptive process while having a few call-out boxes summarizing how the readers can perform the process. In other words, writers may address both "How can I do this?" and "How is this done?" in different parts of one text. Alternatively, they might develop different versions of the same document for two audiences--an audience of users and an audience of interested parties.
Why Write About Processes?
Process texts are extremely common in school and professions. In school, teachers frequently assign process assignments. For example, humanities professors may ask for a description of how an artistic or literary period evolved; history professors, the contributions of a culture's leaders over time; social science professors, the chronology of inventions; engineering professors, explanations of how sound is changed into electrical signals; business professors, how the Federal Reserve works or how to sell a product.
On a daily basis, we read descriptive processes. Intelligent people are inquisitive; they want to understand how things work. Last year, for example, over three million readers a month accessed How Stuff Works, a Web site containing thousands of process essays. We routinely read processes, including recipes, user manuals for new software, or advice columns on how to lose weight or how to succeed in school or a profession. People are always wondering about things, wondering how computers work, how grass grows, how heart disease occurs, how far the human eye can see, and so on.
Instructions: Use the sections below, as directed by your instructor, to learn about writing processes. Read sample process reports and write your own process-driven project.
Writers of process texts are practicing what specialists call "expository writing" or "explanatory writing." These texts focus on answering one of the following questions: "How is this done? How can I do this?"
Diverse Rhetorical Situations
Most prescriptive and descriptive processes are written to explain how something works. Most processes are written in chronological order and most rely extensively on visuals. To promote clarity, writers often number particular steps in a process. When the topic is learning a software program, writers use screenshots and call-outs and screen movies to walk a user through the tutorial.
Nonetheless, other purposes and organizational schemes are available. Writers may speculate about whether a process exists; they may argue a process exists with the intention of selling the reader something.
While the topics of process reports may be diverse, the rhetorical stance of most process reports tends to be more uniform than the rhetorical stance of other projects, as illustrated below.
Process Texts Purposes Audiences Voices Media
Descriptive Process Analysis
- Explain, speculate, or argue about "How is this done?"
- Curious people
- Web sites
Prescriptive Process Analysis
- Explain "How can I do this?"
- Decision makers
- User manuals
- Policy manuals
- Web sites
Rhetorical Analysis of Online Readings
Analyze the Web sites annotated below. Consider the context, audience, purpose, and media invoked by the following readings. Also examine how ideas are developed in these texts. Are assertions grounded in personal experience, interviews with authorities, questionnaires, Internet and library research, or empirical research?
1. Instruction Processes: Recipes and Physical Processes
- How Pencils Are Made:Using an objective voice and extensive graphics, this piece is written to explain how pencils are made--not for future pencil makers but for interested readers.
- Yoga Postures Step-by-Step: Santosha.com provides a searchable database of yoga postures. The description of each posture is supplemented by animations that show a figure doing the postures correctly. Presumably, readers will do more than read about the postures: they will try them!
2. Instruction Processes: Software Tutorials
Do you have a question about how to use a software tool, such as Microsoft Word, FrontPage, DreamWeaver, or HTML? As you can imagine, given the growth of the Internet and information technologies, tutorials and user manuals are exceedingly commonplace on the Internet. Below are links to several worthwhile sites.
- ToolsforWriters: Authored by writing students at the University of South Florida, this e-zine includes many tutorials on using software tools, including Microsoft Word, FrontPage, and Excel. Most of these tutorials have screen shots and call-outs, highlighting important steps.
- Catalyst: How To Documents. Authored by Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology at the University of Washington, "Catalyst is an integrated collection of resources, training, tools, templates, and support to help educators make effective use of technology in teaching."
3. Instruction Processes: Personal Development
Do you ever have difficulties finding balance in your life--eating well, exercising regularly, balancing school with work? The Internet provides many "development" Web sites that are designed to help you change your life:
- Zen: The Seat of Enlightenment. The Zen Mountain Monastery provides a description of Zen meditation, including photographs and animated examples of breathing postures. From this site, readers can learn about The Zen Mountain Monastery, perhaps becoming sufficiently interested to enroll in some of the institute's seminars.
- Ten Steps to Attract a Life Partner. Using a list form to organize her text, Katherin Scott, a personal development coach, outlines strategies for finding a life partner. From this site, readers can purchase coaching documents or inquire about workshops, so you could argue this text is written--in part--to sell the author's expertise.
- Don't Ask Me Where I'm Going. I'm Busy Driving. Steve Kaye writes this six-step guide to asserting control over your life for readers of Fluid Power Journal, a journal for engineers.
4. Instruction Processes: Academic Processes
Choosing majors, getting good grades, securing internships, researching topics--these topics are commonly addressed on university Web sites. You can go to your college's home page and search for career resources, search the Internet, or consider the following examples to help you choose a career or do well in school:
- Undergraduate Advising at the University of Washington presents "How to Choose a Major and Investigate a Career." Written for students, this site provides links to University of Washington resources as well as national resources.
- As a service to its students, Cornell University publishes " The Seven Steps of the Research Process," employing a hypertextual format.
- Using a hypertextual format, Duke University provides a guide similar to Cornell's guide to the research process, also outlining seven steps: Guide to Library Research. In addition, the Duke guide provides a drop-down menu that addresses specific questions students pose when facing research assignments.
- Using internal hyperlinks, Athabasca University, a Canadian distance education university, provides The AU Library Guide to the Research Process.
5. Theoretical Processes: Psychological or Educational Development
Educators and psychologists have propounded many models of cognitive, moral, social, and intellectual development. Below are some links to some major theorists whose models of development have captured the imagination of others.
- Lawrence Kholberg's model of ethical development is well presented on the Internet.
- The University of Illinois at Chicago presents a brief introduction to Kholberg and other developmental psychologists: Moral Development and Moral Education: An Overview.
- Kohlberg's Moral Dilemmas (at Haverford College)
- William Perry's Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development.
- Meet Your Students by Richard M. Felder.
*Some articles are used across multiple genres and disciplines.