Process Analysis in Composition

Guidelines and examples

Process analysis writing
Process analysis is sometimes called step-by-step writing. filadendron/Getty Images

In composition, process analysis is a method of paragraph or essay development by which a writer explains step by step how something is done or how to do something.

Process analysis writing can take one of two forms, depending on the topic:

  1.  Information about how something works (informative)
  2.  An explanation of how to do something (directive).

An informative process analysis is usually written in the third-person point of view; a directive process analysis is usually written in the second person. In both forms, the steps are typically organized in chronological order--that is, the order in which the steps are carried out.

Process Analysis in Academics

Academics and grammarians have explained the actual "process" of process analysis, as well as the specific steps a writer should follow in using this method as these items demonstrate.

G. H. Muller and H. S. Wiener

Planning a good process analysis requires the writer to include all the essential steps. Be sure you have all the tools or ingredients needed. Arrange the steps in the correct sequence. Like all good writing, a process essay requires a thesis to tell the reader the significance of the process. The writer can tell the reader how to do something, but also should inform the reader about the usefulness or importance of the endeavor."
(The Short Prose Reader. McGraw-Hill, 2006)

Robert Funk, et al.

"When you revise your process writing, think about the people who will be reading it. Ask yourself these questions:
Have I chosen the best starting point? Think about how much your audience already knows before you decide where to begin describing the process. Don't assume your readers have background knowledge that they may not have.

Have I provided enough definitions of terms? 

Have I been specific enough in the details?" (The Simon and Schuster Short Prose Reader, 2nd ed. Prentice Hall, 2000)

C.S. Lewis

"Those who think they are testing a boy's 'elementary' command of English by asking him to describe in words how one ties one's tie or what a pair of scissors is like, are far astray. For precisely what language can hardly do at all, and never does well, is to inform us about complex physical shapes and movements. . . . Hence we never in real life voluntarily use language for this purpose; we draw a diagram or go through pantomimic gestures."
(Studies in Words, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 1967)

Process Analysis in Popular Culture

Of course, the notion of using a step-by-step method, which is the definition of process analysis, provides plenty of fodder for works in popular culture, ranging from explanations of how to remove items from a child's hair to notating a book. Even humorists and popular poets have demonstrated process analysis.

Joshua Piven et al.

Below, writers of a parent manual explain how to remove chewing gum from a child's hair:

Place several cubes of ice in a plastic bag or thin cloth. Seal or hold it closed.

Move the affected hair away from the scalp and press the ice against the gum for 15 to 30 minutes or until the gum freezes solid. Use a rubber glove or a dry washcloth to hold the ice compress if your hand becomes chilled.

With one hand, hold the stuck section of the hair between the gum clot and the scalp, and break the frozen gum into small pieces.

Gently pull the frozen gum pieces from the hair using your other hand. If the warmth of your hand begins to melt the gum, refreeze and repeat until all the gum has been removed from the hair. (The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Parenting. Chronicle Books, 2003)

Mortimer Adler

There are all kinds of devices for marking a book intelligently and fruitfully. Here's the way I do it:

Underlining: of major points, of important or forceful statements.

  • Vertical lines at the margin: to emphasize a statement already underlined.
  • Star, asterisk, or another doo-dad at the margin: to be used sparingly, to emphasize the ten or twenty most important statements in the book. . . .
  • Numbers in the margin: to indicate the sequence of points the author makes in developing a single argument.
  • Numbers of other pages in the margin: to indicate where else in the book the author made points relevant to the point marked; to tie up the ideas in a book, which, though they may be separated by many pages, belong together.
  • Circling of keywords or phrases.
  • Writing in the margin, or at the top or bottom of the page, for the sake of: recording questions (and perhaps answers) which a passage raised in your mind; reducing a complicated discussion to a simple statement; recording the sequence of major points right through the book. I use the end-papers at the back of the book to make a personal index of the author's points in the order of their appearance. ("How to Mark a Book." Saturday Review, July 6, 1940)

Izaak Walton

"[I]f he be a large Chub, then dress him thus:
"First scale him, and then wash him clean, and then take out his guts; and to that end make the hole as little and near to his gills as you may conveniently, and especially make clean his throat from the grass and weeds that are usually in it (for if that be not very clean, it will make him to taste very sour); having so done, put some sweet herbs into his belly, and then tie him with two or three splinters to a spit, and roast him, basted often with vinegar, or rather verjuice and butter, with good store of salt mixt with it.

"Being thus drest, you will find him a much better dish of meat than you, or most folk, even than Anglers themselves do imagine; for this dries up the fluid watery humor with which all Chubs do abound.

"But take this rule with you, that a Chub newly taken and newly drest, is so much better than a Chub of a days keeping after he is dead, that I can compare him to nothing so fitly as to Cherries newly gathered from a tree, and others that have been bruised and lain a day or two in water. Being thus used and drest presently, and not washt after he is gutted (for note that lying long in water, and washing the blood out of the Fish after they be gutted, abates much of their sweetness), you will find the Chub to be such meat as will recompense your labour."
(The Compleat Angler, 5th edition, 1676)

Shel Silverstein

"First grow a moustache
A hundred inches long,
Then loop it over a hick'ry limb
(Make sure the limb is strong).
Now pull yourself up off the ground
And wait until the spring--
Then swing!"
("How to Make a Swing With No Rope or Board or Nails." A Light in the Attic. HarperCollins, 1981)

Dave Barry

"Lay the suit on its back on a flat surface such as a tennis court. Take the sleeves and place them at the side. Take the left sleeve and place it on the suit's hip, and hold the right sleeve over the suit's head as though the suit is waving in a jaunty manner. Now put both sleeves straight up over the suit's head and shout, 'Touchdown!' Ha ha! Isn't this fun? You may feel silly, but trust me, you're not half as silly as the people who think they can fold a suit so it won't come out wrinkled."
(Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need. Ballantine Books, 1991)

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Nordquist, Richard. "Process Analysis in Composition." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Process Analysis in Composition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Process Analysis in Composition." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).