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Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions




Introduction to Process Description & Instructions




This introductory page offers a simple, brief summary.  For more, go to "Basics" and to "Sample Papers" by students. If you understand this type of paper already or want to explore it in more depth, you might prefer to read "Advanced Methods."  All five web pages of this chapter are listed in the right-hand column--simply click on the page you want to see. 



A "process description" and a set of "instructions" are two types of papers that, though similar, are slightly different.  

A "process description" is defined as a general description of how a process happens, step by step.  It does not tell the reader what to do; rather, it describes how something happens.  Examples of process descriptions are any kind of manual, pamphlet, or sheet describing how a type of machine works, how a human process works, or how a type of event works.  Process descriptions avoid giving commands, avoid using the pronoun "you," and make use of the present tense (as in "First, the driver inserts the key in the lock") and avoid giving commands.  

A set of "instructions," however, are defined as commands to readers telling them to do something, step by step.  A set of instructions does not simply describe general events but rather gives directions to readers for making something specific happen.  Examples of instructions are any kind of directions, such as those that come with furniture that must be assembled, those that are provided for starting to use a new electronic device, or those that tell you how to prepare a form.  Instructions use commands (as in either "1. Open the box" or "1. First, you must open the box").   


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Writer's Goal or Assignment

The goal of writing a process description is to provide a general introduction to how something works.  Any good technical, professional, or business training program--whether in school, at work, or in a manual--must acquaint people with how the machines, technology, and/or processes around them work.  A process description provides this general information.  It does so, usually, in the framework of an introduction, a series of sections describing the steps of the process, and a conclusion.  You need to add sufficient details that your readers will have a clear understanding of the process.          

The goal of writing a set of instructions is to provide step-by-step directions to someone who is doing a task.  Such instructions are necessary for consumers, clients, and employees to be able to operate machines, technologies, and activities.  Instructions provide the actual details of how one person--the reader--may perform something on a specific machine or in a specific activity.  You need to offer sufficient details that your reader will be able, confidently and with as little confusion as possible, to perform the commands.   


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Summary/Outline of the Visual Structure

Here is a typical structure or organization for a process description or set of instructions.  More development of this structure is shown in the "Basics" section.

Organization of a Process Description or Set of Instructions

Unique Title 




(A Background Definition/Description, if Needed)

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5, etc.



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Focusing Methods

A "focus" in writing helps you at any given moment to concentrate on writing.  Here are several helpful, important focuses people use to develop a process description or a set of instructions. 

SUBJECT: If helpful, brainstorm a list of steps in your process or directions.  Choose the most helpful steps.  (You may include sub-steps within major steps.)  Are the steps appropriate for the outcome or goal of your paper?  Do you have enough details or examples to clearly explain what happens or what should be done?  Have you clarified the overall subject fully and logically?  What is the problem and solution your paper represents?  Will your audience find your paper and its steps appropriate and interesting?   

FIRST & SECOND DRAFTS: Start with one or two methods that work best for you, but develop the others in later drafts.

  1. Free write: write as much as you can quickly on what you know or have collected about your subject or its parts. 

  2. Gather details: write descriptions or a list of the proofs you have for your materials--facts in the form of charts, lists, or diagrams; as quotations, and/or from reports of people's experiences that can be validated independently.

  3. Write for your audience: visualize it.  What facts and/or ideas is it willing to consider, in what style or tone, and with what kind of organizational presentation?

  4. Organize: make an outline using the structure above or whatever structure your instructor suggests.

  5. Research: if required, mix research of your paper with the above methods to develop a first draft before, during, or after your research. Be sure to use proper citation and documentation for every source, even for charts and diagrams, illustrations/images, and personal-experience anecdotes.

STYLE, TONE, and WRITER'S ROLE: Develop (in early or late drafts) a professional style and tone of efficient, interested, reasoned, fair logic.  In your role as a writer, you should sound business like and positive, and present potential or real problems constructively, discussing how they will be fixed.  

AUTHENTICITY: It may be useful, even good, to mention at least one or two minor difficulties and how they are resolved; this is authentic in that it allows your readers to see that you have considered problems rather than avoided them. 

Otherwise, present your material with the clear intent to inform fully, realistically, and logically.  Consider your audience's needs and interests in order to serve them properly.  In addition, if possible, develop an interest in the project (if you have not already done so), such that it is a meaningful event to you, even as you maintain a professional attitude about it.   


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Chapter 55. Process & Instructions






Related Chapters/Pages:

Details & Images

Creating Websites

Leading Writing Groups



Links in Grammar Book

  16. Research Writing

  17. Citation & Documentation

  18. References & Resources

  19. Visual/Multimodal Design

  20. Major/Work Writing


Updated 1 Aug. 2013

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1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012.
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted.
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Images courtesy of Barry's Clip Art, Clip Art Warehouse, The Clip Art Universe, Clipart Collection, MS Clip Art Gallery and Design Gallery Live, School Discovery, and Web Clip Art
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.