The Process Essay writing

The Process Essay writing
The first essay assigned in a Composition course is often the so-called process essay, the writing project in which we describe how to do something or tell how something happens. The nice thing about the process essay is that it can be truly helpful. When our readers finish this essay, they will know how to do something that they didn't know how to do before or they will understand some process that had mystified them before. There are several cautions to keep in mind in choosing a topic for a process essay.
Don't write about something that is too complicated. Don't try to write a brief process essay about something that needs an instruction manual. When you have to drive from Hartford to St. Louis, you start by getting to Waterbury. You don't like being overwhelmed by directions, and you don't want to overwhelm your reader. Also, don't write about something that needs to be accompanied by visual aids. We could read a good essay about how to wallpaper around a window or a bathroom vanity, but it would be much better to watch a videotape of the same process. There are some things that are much better seen than read. Try describing the process of tying your shoes and you'll see what we mean.

Be especially careful of the connections between your sentences in a process essay. There is a temptation to connect each sentence with "And then," "then," "and then." That's all right when Aunt Gloria is telling you how to make meatloaf, but it's boring in an essay. Try writing the essay with all the and then's you want, and then go back and eliminate most of them; you'll probably find you don't need most of them. Try for a variety of transitional tags. Don't number the steps of your essay, and avoid using words like "secondly," "thirdly," etc. You might want to say "first" and "second," but then let the numbering go. Also, although it would be tempting to use graphical embellishments — even something as simple as bulleted paragraphs or sentences — avoid doing this for the purpose of this essay. The trick here is to let the language do all the work for you. (You might want to ask your instructor about this matter of graphical elements, especially if you are writing a more technical essay.) Oh, and speaking of meatloaf, avoid using abbreviations — tsp., oz., etc. — in formal academic writing. Write everything out and save the abbreviations for Aunt Gloria's recipe card.

At first glance, it seems that beginning a process essay would be easy: just start with the first step, right? Well, perhaps so, but if your readers aren't interested in your process, they might just put your essay aside and go watch television, and you don't want that. Your beginning ought to involve readers in the human dimension that makes knowing your process important to them. If you're going to write about how to jump-start a dead car battery, don't start with hooking up the cables. Start with the dark snowy morning in the parking lot, and there's no garage around, and sleet is dripping down your neck, and how do you hook up these stupid cables you find in the trunk? If you're going to write about how to make a soufflé, don't start with the eggs. Start with how you'd feel if your new mother-in-law came over for dinner and your souffleé came out looking like a pile of scrambled eggs — and then tell your readers how they'll feel if they do things your way! Your readers might not be interested in car batteries or soufflés, but they will be interested in the human condition of being stuck and miserable or embarrassed, and they will read on.

Allow one of your steps to stand out from the others; in other words, don't let all the steps in your process feel equally important. Equally important means equally unimportant. Attach a special warning to one of your steps. If you don't connect the positive pole to the positive pole of the batteries, you could cause an explosion or melt down your battery. If you don't do such-and-such with your crockpot just at this point in the process, your soufflé is headed for culinary disaster. This special moment or warning in the process will lend the essay a variety of tone, some texture, another human dimension, and remind your readers that someone (you, the writer) is trying very hard to be helpful to them, and that's going to keep them reading.

As you write your essay, be watchful of your pronouns. If your frame of reference has consistently been yourself, and you have said, over and over, how "I" do things: first I do this, then I do this, and then I do this, you want to remain consistently within that frame of reference. When you get to the conclusion of the essay, don't suddenly address the reader and say "You do it this way"; the shift in perspective can bewilder the reader. Consistency is the chief virtue here.

There is, of course, a difference between a process essay that tells readers how to do something and a process essay that describes the process by which something gets done by someone else or by nature. You could write a great process essay describing what happens when Mother Nature decides it's time for trees to lose their leaves in the fall. Something in the changing angle of sunlight tells these two rows of cells in the leaf's stem to begin to dry up, and the chlorophyll begins to dry (allowing the leaf's other colors — the red, the orange, the yellow of fall — to show through) and then the stem breaks at just that point (the same for every leaf) and the leaf falls off. Neither you nor your readers are actually, physically, involved, but the process is fascinating in its own right.

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