2.6 Process Analysis

[1]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 remains 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 needed 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 beyond College

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. Also, remember our discussion from 2.4 in which we discussed the diference between connotation and denotation. Make sure the process explanation is not saturated with vague words that are often driven by personal understandings of what that word signifies.

Exercise 1

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

  1. Tying a shoelace
  2. Parallel parking
  3. Planning a successful first date
  4. Being an effective communicator

Watch the following video for a fun example of creating specific instructions: “This ‘Exact Instructions Challenge’ is so Hilarious”[2]

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 typically follows chronological order. 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 more thorough explanation, 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.


Refer back to 2.5 “Classification.”

In order to decide which parts of the process need to appear alone or grouped together, you may need to classifiy the indiviual steps into sections in order to better understand the organization your paper should take.

The time transition phrases covered in the Narration and Illustration sections are also helpful in organizing process analysis essays. Words such as first, second, third, next, and finally are helpful cues to orient the reader and organize the content of the essay.

Exercise 2

Choose two of the lists you created in  “Exercise 1” and start writing out the processes in paragraph form. Try to 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.

Practicing Peer Review

Have someone else read your process analysis to make sure it makes sense. How clearly is your idea is coming across? Can your peer successfully complete the process you have laid out? If no, troupleshoot any confusing spots by having your peer explain how they would complete the step based off the explanations you provided.

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, choose a process that 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 transition 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.

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 transition phrases are particularly helpful in process analysis essays to organize steps and orient the reader.

  1. 2.6 (except where otherwise noted) was borrowed with edits and additions from Writing for Success which was adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2011 by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution.This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing.
  2. Newsflare. "This 'Exact Instructions Challenge' is so Hilarious." YouTube, uploaded by Now I've Seen Everything, 13 Oct. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ct-lOOUqmyY.


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