What is a Process Essay

What is a process essay? The definition of a process is a sequence of occurrences or actions that result in a certain outcome. A process essay is designed to follow this sequence in a written description. The process is exposed in consecutive steps or stages in which the process unfolds. This kind of essay may either explain a process or provide instructions to accomplish a goal through action. A process essay is a relative of technical writing, which is rich in instruction manuals. However, they differ slightly, as a process essay is more narrative than imperative.

Types of a Process Essay

The two types of a process explanation essay is an informational process essay (also called “descriptive”) and directional process essay (also called “prescriptive” - basically, a “how-to” instruction). The first one educates a reader on processes that happen in nature, technology, as well as ideal or hypothetical processes, while the latter provides directions about something the reader intends to do.

Process paper ideas for informational process essays would be topics such as: “How does the Internet work?”, “How do our eyes see?”, an explanation of money circulation principles or how presidential elections occur.

Process paper ideas for directional process essays would be topics such as:"How to find your calling?", "How to communicate with toddlers the right way?", a step-by-step guide to launching a charity campaign or train a dog.

How to Write a Process Paper

The following sets of characteristics can serve as guidelines when you are writing a process essay.

Characteristics of a directional process essay:

  • frequently used transitional expressions;
  • verbs are put into the imperative mood to instruct the reader (do not use imperatives excessively, diversify your text with impersonal verbs);
  • a typical main subject of a sentence is the reader: 2nd person "you" or 3rd person "the reader" (the buyer, the student, etc.);
  • concise language used both to name the steps (short statements) and to explain them (succinct longer sentences);
  • step-by-step layout, unless an important remark or a precaution is necessary in between;
  • an optional list of items needed to perform the instructions;
  • explanations of complex, specific terms.

Characteristics of a descriptive process essay:

  • frequently used transitional expressions;
  • active voice verbs are used to describe the process in the present tense;
  • a typical main subject of a sentence is the object involved in the process: 3rd person nouns and pronouns;
  • concise language;
  • stage-by-stage layout or another kind of logical exposition;
  • explanations of complex, specific terms.

Types of Processes

Step-by-step process

A simple process laid out in a logical sequence. It as an instruction that shows the reader how to do something, guiding them through every step and explaining harder steps more meticulously. Normally, there is just one way in which the process can go or one desired goal. A step-by-step process can be found in a directional (or prescriptive) process essay.

Organic process

A process that explains how something occurs or works in a logical way, usually in a linear sequence, with possible deviations. Organic process is characteristic of an informative (or descriptive) process essay.

Decision-based process

The outcome of this process depends on the option that is chosen by the subject at every stage of the process, where each decision opens a doorway to a new set of possible choices. A decision-based process can be found both in informative and directional process essays, or even in a mixture of the two.

Qualitative process

At the core of such an essay is a point of reference or a model, against which the process is judged. A qualitative process offers many ways towards one goal, leaving it up to the reader to estimate them and pick one. It is typical for the essays about a qualitative process to try and develop a methodical approach to fulfill the requirements of the reference standard; or, they describe an opposite process that would lead to an undesired result. A qualitative process can be found both in informative and directional process essays or in a mixture of the two.

Process Essay Structure

Title: it must clearly tell the reader what process you are writing about.

Introduction: give context to the process, emphasize what makes it valuable or important, what it is relevant to. Establish the main argument of your essay or its goal in the thesis.

Main body: characterize the process and analyze each of its stages in detail. Don’t forget to specify why it’s important to understand a particular step in relation to others, or why an action should be done exactly as instructed.

Connect a previous stage to the next one with short summaries where applicable, and use transitional expressions in the sentences. Make sure you don’t repeat the same expression too many times, especially in one paragraph.

To focus the reader’s attention on each of the steps, put them in separate process paragraphs, or even sub-paragraphs if the step is big or has something cautionary or noteworthy about it. Keep your instructions more informative rather than imperative.

Conclusion: sum up the process and underline the key stages or steps once more. Remind the reader of the context of the process if necessary. The conclusion is a firm restatement of the thesis. It draws the reader's attention back to the significance of the process, to how the reader can relate to it. Also, you can provide references to additional information about the process or remark upon interesting facts about it.

Writing a Process Essay

When writing a process essay, you may want to get example-specific to liven up your text and help the reader relate to the content. For instance, if you’re writing an essay about how to get a place to live, you create a character who finds themselves in such a situation. Let’s say, the character you create is Johnny - if it’s a recent college graduate looking for an apartment to rent with roommates; or, your character is Mr. Tuckleberry, a married father of three, looking for a big house to buy. You, the writer, may turn into a real estate agent or a person who has been in the same situation recently and successfully resolved it, and now you can give good advice on how to get yourself a dwelling. These characters should be created with your audience in mind. Such a method may or may not be appropriate for your particular assignment, but it’s a nice variation that will make the readers appreciate your essay a bit more.

Process Essay Introduction

The first step in an introduction is to describe the situation. In the end, state a thesis which offers the way to the desired outcome. Keeping up with our example: “Mr. Tuckleberry has got a promotion. Now his company transfers him from Providence, RI to Boston, MA. Mr. Tuckleberry has to find a spacious home in an uptown neighborhood, near a good school for his three children and with a patch of land for his wife’s garden. The man doesn’t know Boston well, and he needs help to find a perfect home. Mr. Tuckleberry calls his sister, Mrs. Kirkland, who has recently moved to a different state with her new husband. She now knows all about the process of buying a new house out of state. Mrs. Kirkland gave her brother a few pieces of advice”.

Main Body

Sketch a little plan before writing the most essential part of your essay, so that you don’t get lost among ideas or confuse the steps of the process. This will also help you arrange the steps in the right sequence. Don’t forget that first of all, the reader has to prepare all the items they may probably need to reach their goal. You also must have enough knowledge about this process before you write about it. When you are ready, lay out the steps of the process. Every step has its own processing paragraph and is indicated at the start of the paragraph. For instance: “When buying a house out of state, the best thing to do first is to find a relocation professional whose reliability is backed up with feedback”. If our directional process essay was about something that requires equipment or other materials, these would be enlisted before the first step: “To get ready to draw, collect the necessary items: a graphite stick, a permanent and a non-permanent markers, a drawing board, bond paper, a viewfinder, and pencils”.


Thinking about ways to start a conclusion paragraph, keep in mind that your conclusion and introduction paragraphs frame your essay. They use the same statement, even though expressed differently: the introduction presents the thesis statement for process essay, the conclusion confirms it. Also, a conclusion draws the most of a reader’s attention, and it can be useful to mention there important notes about the process. For example: “To secure your property purchase, cooperate with a trusted agent. An important step to remember is to make a house inspection before you buy it”.

Transition Words for a Process Essay

Process essays are written in sequential rhythm, as the stages of a process follow each other. Maintain this rhythm through the use of expressions indicative of transition of one step into the next. They are important junctions for the essay, leading the reader through the process like GPS. Among such expressions are:

  • First of all,
  • Secondly,
  • Begin with,
  • For starters,
  • Afterward,
  • Next,
  • Instantly,
  • Meanwhile,
  • The following step is,
  • Finally,
  • The last thing to do is,

As with any kind of writing, review your essay and check grammar, spelling, structure and the appropriateness of the vocabulary you’ve used. Reread your essay on behalf of a reader, to see if your instructions are really understandable. If you could manage to easily accomplish the goal of your instructions or successfully comprehend all the explanations, the essay is good to go.

How to Do a Process Paper the Right Way

When writing a process paper, beware of confusing a process essay with other types of essays.

Narrative essay

Although there should be a balance between narrative and imperative modes in a process essay, it is not actually a narration. Avoid confusing a process essay with a narrative essay, which tells about personal experience and is characterized by expressiveness and subjectivity. The purpose of a narrative essay is to cause an emotional impact on the reader, while a process essay deals with objective reality and strives to be informative in the first place.

Descriptive essay

It's easy to confuse a descriptive process essay with an actual descriptive essay, which is a different type of expository writing. The difference between them is that a descriptive process essay explains how something works, while a usual descriptive essay explains how something looks or feels.

Cause and effect essay

Cause and effect essays also concentrate on processes. However, unlike the actual process essay, they intend to disclose the reasons behind the outcome of a process and not just tell how this process occurs.

Too complicated?

There's no need to obscure an essay with complex terms and long sentences. Be laconic, but not at the price of omitting essential information. Explain all the definitions that may be not familiar to the reader. Provide your text with examples or illustrations to facilitate understanding.

Too simple?

If you choose the topic of your process essay yourself, it is not recommended to choose one that is too simple, like "how to cook lasagna" or "how to remove an ink stain". If you still write on such a topic, make it essay-worthy by looking at the subject in a new, unusual way, by adding a meaningful context or a pinch of creativity and even humor.

What Is a Process Paper?

What is a process paper? It's a guide that helps readers understand the mechanics of something or learn to do things on their own. The process is described in a detailed, accurate way to ensure that the reader understands it well. The instructions should not sound robotically exhaustive, but rather turn on the reader's imagination so that they could see the process in their mind.