How to write a written explanation for an essay
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.
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:
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:
Identifying and organizing steps
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.)
- at first
- begin by
- as soon as
- at last
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):
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.
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