Instructions & Processes

“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:

  1. Descriptive processes answer “How is this done?” These texts describe how a process occurs so that readers can understand it better.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?”
  • Students
  • Researchers
  • Curious people
  • Objective
  • Imperative
  • Authoritative
  • Essays
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Web sites
  • Video

Prescriptive Process Analysis

  • Explain “How can I do this?”
  • Technicians
  • Users
  • Decision makers
  • Objective
  • Imperative
  • Authoritative
  • Essays
  • User manuals
  • Policy manuals
  • Tutorials
  • Web sites
  • Videos

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