You may ask yourself, how do I work this?
(Yes, thanks to David Byrne and the Talking Heads for my opening line.)
I don’t know about you, but I’ve asked this question more than once in my lifetime.
I’m sure you’ve asked this question many times, too. For example, how do I change my ringtone? How do I sign up for fall classes? Or how to I pick a topic for my process essay?
It’s the simple “How do I…” or “How to…” statement that is the basic premise of a process essay. In a nutshell, a process essay tells readers how to do something. (In a way, this blog post is an informal process essay, too! Whoa!)
Keep reading to learn more, as this post explains the basics of a process essay and lists 15 process essay topics to get you started.
Process Essay Basics
As the title of the essay implies, a process essay tells readers how to do something and is essentially a step-by-step essay that explains a process.
But remember, a process essay is not a set of instructions.
You’re writing an essay, so write in essay format and choose a somewhat simple process. Don’t choose a topic that is so complex that you’d need to write an instruction manual to fully explain the process.
This also means that you shouldn’t number each step and you will need to use appropriate transitions to link each step. While it’s tempting (and certainly much easier) to simply link each step with “..and then you do this” “and then you do that”, don’t because that makes for boring reading.
Time is also an important element when writing a process essay. I don’t mean the time you spend writing the essay. I mean the time it will take your audience to complete the process you’re explaining. So help your readers by being specific about how long it will take.
Not quite sure how to link ideas or which time cues might help readers? You might try a few of these transitions:
- First, second, etc. (Be careful about using these, as you don’t want to use them in place of numbering.)
- Before this, before
- At the same time, simultaneously, during
- After a few minutes, after a few hours, after 24 hours
- Finally, last, lastly
Now that you have a better understanding of what makes a good process essay let’s move on to finding a topic for your paper. (See what I did there by using a transition?)
15 Process Essay Topics That Make Sense
Check out this list of process essay topics to help inspire your next writing masterpiece.
Write a process to explain how to:
1. Change Facebook privacy settings
Just about everyone could use some help changing privacy settings on Facebook. This type of process essay can easily slip into a set of directions though, so find a clever or humorous way to tell readers how to change their settings (without making them want to pull out their hair).
2. Make a good first impression
There are two key points in life where people are eager to make a good first impression: a job interview and a first date. Of course, your explanation of how to speak, act, and dress will be different for each scenario, so don’t try to write a general essay about making a good impression in every situation. Pick a specific scenario and go with it.
3. Master Call of Duty (or another video game)
If you’re a hard-core gamer, beating Call of Duty might be your life’s mission. If you want to help others complete their missions, you might write about mastering the game or simply making it through a particularly difficult section of the game.
4. Teach someone how to text
Granted, most people today already know how to text, but do you know anyone in your life, such as your great-grandmother or your four-year-old brother, who doesn’t understand texting?
Choose your words carefully. Technology can be difficult to understand, especially if you use too many terms that may be unfamiliar to your audience.
5. Train your dog to sit (or do another trick)
I’ve tried to train my dog, and he still ignores me. Part of your process for training a dog might include a few examples of what not to do. This would certainly help people like me who haven’t been able to teach their old dogs any new tricks!
6. Use Foursquare (or other social media) to meet people in your area
This essay might be less about how to actually use the app and more about how to use the technology to your advantage. How can the technology help you meet people, and why is meeting people in this way a good idea?
7. Draw a cow
When explaining how to draw an image, it’s a good idea to provide a few sketches to help readers see what you’re explaining.
Of course, you can tell someone how to draw another object, but I think it would be more fun to explain how to draw a cow. Besides, who wouldn’t want to learn to draw an awesome looking cow like the one I’ve included below?
Mouldy Sponge (www.sketchport.com )
8. Set up a good online dating profile
What makes an online profile good? That’s a tricky question.
Everyone is looking for different characteristics and personality traits in a partner, so your task in this process essay is to determine what type of person you’d like to attract and then explain to readers how to attract that person. If you’re a dog person, for instance, and want to avoid cat people, it’s probably a good idea to state that in your profile.
9. Shoot a perfect free throw
The first consideration when explaining how to shoot a perfect free throw is the experience level of your audience.
Is your audience a group of basketball players who would just like a few extra pointers on how to improve their game? Or, is your audience made of people who have never picked up a basketball and don’t even know what a free throw is?
Your audience will determine the language you use and what information you’ll include.
10.Take an amazing selfie
If you’ve ever taken a bad selfie and promptly deleted it before it ever made it to social media, then you know what not to do when taking a selfie.
So what makes a good selfie? Is it your smile, your pose, the people you’re with, or the background image? How do you combine these elements to take a selfie worthy of envy?
11. Use Etsy to start a small business
Have you started selling your handmade products on Etsy? Have you made enough money to consider quitting your other part-time job? If so, try sharing your knowledge, your experiences, and your secrets to success.
12. Bathe a cat
I don’t know how many of you have ever been able to successfully bathe a cat, but if you’re one of the select few, why not explain to your readers how it’s done!
13. Survive another boring English class
Let’s face it, lectures can be b-o-r-i-n-g. You can only listen to a professor ramble on about symbolism and metaphor for so long. So how do you get through the lecture? Try offering some practical tips on how to take notes or how to engage in the material.
You might also try writing a more lighthearted piece, explaining the importance of how quality doodling can help students stay awake.
14. Look like a fashionista
If you have the gift of style, and think those around you could use a little advice, help them out by explaining what they need to do to look fabulous, such as a hip new haircut, a fabulous new pair of shoes, or a make-under.
15. Change the oil in your car
This step-by-step process can be a challenge because it lends itself to a set of instructions. Resist the temptation to write instructions. Instead, try mixing in practical advice, tips on what not to do, and perhaps even a few funny stories about your own mistakes.
Quick Tips on Choosing a Topic and Writing a Process Essay
As you finalize your topic choice, be sure to choose a process you’ve completed many times and that you can explain to someone else.
Need more ideas? Check out these example process essays.
If you don’t know a lot about the topic and want to research the process, you’ll learn something new, but this might not be the easiest path to writing the essay. If you haven’t already mastered the process, it will be hard to learn and write all at once.
You might even want to complete the process a few times before you begin writing to help you remember the order of steps and which steps are most important.
Finally, here’s an important tip for after you’ve written your essay.
Read your draft and follow your own advice. See if you can actually complete the process by following your step-by-step explanation. (Of course, this won’t work for every process essay, as you can’t exactly train your dog in an afternoon, but it certainly works for essays that focus on quick processes like changing Facebook settings or taking a good selfie.)
If you’re trying to complete the process by reading your own paper, but find you are having trouble, your readers will have trouble too. This means you’ll need to do some revision.
Know who else can help you with revision? A Kibin editor. Don’t hesitate to get some extra help to make your paper stand out!
Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.
WRITING A PROCESS PAPER
A process paper describes to a reader how to do something or how something occurs. Stages in psychological development, steps in installing software or carrying out a marketing plan, or processes in science or historical change, for example, could all be described in a process paper.
How-to's and explanations
There are two kinds of process papers. The author of a how-to paper intends that, after reading it, the reader will be able to carry out the steps in order to accomplish something. For example, the writer of software installation instructions intends the reader to follow the steps to successfully install a program. Here is an example:
There are several steps you can take to get better help on your papers from an English tutor. First, make sure you spell check and proofread your own paper, making as many corrections and improvements as you can. That way, you won't waste time discussing diction "problems" that are really just typing errors. Next, read your paper again, and underline two or three sentences that you are uncomfortable with and would like to improve. At the same time, formulate two or three specific questions to ask the tutor, such as, "What is a comma splice, and how do I fix it?" or "How can I make my writing less choppy?" That way, you are taking responsibility for your own learning and giving the tutor a head start in helping you. Similarly, if you have already received feedback from your instructor on this or earlier papers, bring in the instructor's written comments if possible. Finally, don't ask the tutor for proofreading or editing; the tutor's job is to help you master the skills necessary to do your own proofreading and editing. Instead, try asking for "feedback." Feedback might range from an explanation of your comma errors to recommendations to improve your organization or thesis statement.
The second kind of process paper is an explanation. The writer of an explanation describes in narrative form how something occurs, without actually expecting the reader to carry out steps. The author of a paper describing how a nuclear fission power plant works, for example, probably does not expect readers to be able to manage one based on his explanation. To illustrate, the following explanation describes the development of insecticide resistance in the garden:
Even non-organic gardeners should avoid broad-spectrum pesticides as much as possible. Broad-spectrum pesticides immediately kill the most vulnerable members of an insect population, giving the short-term impression that the infestation has been successfully overcome. However, a few stronger and more resistant insects always remain or recover. Poison-resistant insects breed with each other, producing offspring that are themselves more resistant than the previous generation. After a few cycles, the local insect population has become largely resistant to the insecticide. Meanwhile, the poison has also spread to the local bird population through the birds' feeding on insecticide-drenched insects. Birds that would have helped naturally control the insects die or fail to reproduce. And if the gardener switches to a new broad-spectrum pesticide, the development of pesticide resistance widens to accommodate the new product as well.
Identifying and organizing steps
Prewriting for process papers should focus on identifying the steps or stages in the process and putting them in logical order. The organization for process papers is sequential; the steps of the process are set forth in chronological order. (An explanation process paper may end up looking a lot like a cause and effect paper, since cause-effect relationships are by nature sequential. There is room for overlap among various modes of writing, and seldom does a piece of writing "purely" represent one mode only.) Once you have identified the steps, list them in sequential order.
If there is a trick to writing a process paper, it is to take the time to look at the steps you have listed as if you had never seen them before. Imagine you know nothing of the process you plan to describe. Read over your steps critically to see whether you have omitted anything. Sometimes the most ordinary processes are the most difficult to describe, as any writer of the "how to tie a shoelace" exercise knows! If you can, try following your own steps to the letter to see if they do, in fact, bring about the desired result. No cheating-if you must do something not already on your list of steps, add it.
Listing and numbering steps for prewriting is relatively easy. Describing steps in prose is a little different. The use of "first," "second," and "third" is little more than listing; there are a whole array of signal words, or transitions, to help you shed light on processes. (Most of the following transitions are also suitable for narratives, which, like process papers, usually use chronological, or time, order.)
Notice the signal words and phrases in the following student paper telling how to get to class on time (this paper combines how-to, explanation, and narrative elements):
Your success as a student begins with getting yourself to class, and getting yourself to class beginsnight before. Choose and lay out your clothes. That way in the morning, when you change your mind (and you know you will) you will have already started the process of elimination in searching for something to wear. This will save you time. Set up the coffee pot the night before, too. That way, even if you're not fully awake in the morning, you won't risk filling the coffee filter with something inappropriate, like Lucky Charms. In the morning, get up, start the coffee, shower, toss aside the clothes you laid out the night before (don't blame yourself; really there was no way to know then what you would feel like wearing today), rummage through your closet, choose something, and dress. Next, dash to the kitchen, spread peanut butter on a tortilla, roll it up, and take it with you out the door, for, in the wee hours the night before, you poured the last of the Lucky Charms into the coffee filter and they are irredeemably soggy now. Don't waste time blaming yourself. Just start the car and go, because 10,000 fellow students are vying for your parking place, and that's just on the freeway off-ramp. Follow the stream of cars into the parking lot and circle once or twice to make sure a close spot has not been overlooked by earlier, sleepier arrivals. Settle at last for a distant spot. Jog, don't walk, to the coffee vendor and put your money down. Inhale. Isn't that a great aroma? Nothing like the percolated Lucky Charms! Exhale. It's still only five minutes to eight. Finally, stroll to class nonchalantly. You are so ready to succeed. the
Once you have transformed your numbered list into prose as in the above example, read what you have written to make sure you have not omitted anything. Revise by moving or removing sentences if necessary, or by adding the steps or transitions needed to clarify the process.
Process writing has very practical applications. A business writer outlining a marketing plan uses process writing. Developmental psychologists study and describe cognitive development as a process. Hazardous-materials handlers write and follow strict processes for the safe handling of many substances. Any application of process writing requires attention to detail, sensible organization, and clarity of expression.