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Process Analysis :: OVERVIEW

What is process analysis?

Process analysis explains how to do something or how something works or happens. In either case, the essential core of the process analysis essay is shared one and the same:
the process is articulated into clear, definitive steps
. So the process analysis essay lays out the structured sequence of actions or component steps which lead to a specified result.

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What is the purpose of the process analysis essay?

The main purpose of the process analysis essay is
to explain
—which means, according to the dictionary, “to make (an idea, situation, or problem) clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts or ideas.” This is also to say that the main purpose is
to become an explanation
of (or, to serve as a guide by way of) how to do something or how something works
.

Keep this in mind not by isolating it but while also remembering that it is set in permanent relation to the fact that a process is a sequence, a series, an orderly progression.
Furthermore, there is a lesson to be learned here: spot-reading (or “cherry-picking”) is risky because it subjects the whole to a possible equation (as in, “the process of equating one thing with another”) with a part of the whole. In other words, it puts comprehension at risk of becoming confusion.

Additionally, the purpose of a process analysis essay might also prove something about the process itself or evaluate it: perhaps its ease or difficulty, its simplicity or complexity, its efficiency, efficacy, relevancy, necessity, etc. Or it might provide a set of instructions or directions.

Almost everything we do involves following a step-by-step process. From riding a bike as children to learning various jobs as adults, we initially needed instructions to effectively execute the task. Likewise, we have likely had to instruct others, so we know how important good directions are—and how frustrating it is when they are poorly put together.

One might also say, “Well, alright then, but what about directions? Surely the main purpose of the process analysis essay is also
to direct
?” Good question, but keep in mind that directions without explanation don’t do much good and often become more akin to commands.
A directive process may give you command over something—and commandments may include directions—but its natural foundation, if you will, is different from that of the command.

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The two main types of process analysis

Explanatory
An
explanatory
process analysis
provides the information necessary for readers to understand the process, but more to satisfy their curiosity than to teach them how to do something.

Directive
A
directive
process analysis
explains how to do or make something: make enchiladas, repair a wagon wheel, negotiate an argument, write an essay. It should outline the individual steps completely so that anyone can duplicate them and achieve the specified result.

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IRL: Writing at Work

The next time you have to explain a process to someone at work, be mindful of how clearly you articulate each step. Strong communication skills are critical for workplace satisfaction and advancement. Effective process analysis plays a critical role in developing that skill set.

EXERCISE 1

At-home version
– (a-sync)

On a sheet of paper (real or digital), make a bulleted list of all the steps that you feel would be required to clearly illustrate one of the following:
Tying a shoelace
Parallel parking
Planning a successful first date
Creating an effective PowerPoint presentation

In-class version
– (sync)

The class will be divided into four groups. (If in Zoom, each group will be assigned their own breakout room.)

Groups 1 and 2 will make a bulleted list of all the steps they feel would be required to clearly illustrate
washing your hands
.
Groups 3 and 4 will make a bulleted list of all the steps they feel would be required to clearly illustrate
ordering at Starbucks
.

The structure of a process analysis essay

The process analysis essay usually opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the goal of the process.

Process analyses typically follow a chronological sequence. (This typicality is especially the case for directive analyses wherein order is so causally chained to outcome that to break from order is also to break from outcome.)

For both types of process analysis, however, it is often useful to create
phases
or
stages
, which, in turn, can be divided into
steps
—and those steps subdivided further, etc, and so on. The standard procedure is that the components of the process, regardless of their hierarchical level (i.e., phases/stages, steps, substeps, etc), be conveyed in the order in which they usually occur. Regarding standard essay structure, body paragraphs are constructed based on these components. If a particular phase/stage or step is complicated and needs a lot of explaining or attention to detail, then it will likely take up its own section (for the former) or paragraph (for the latter). But if a series of simple steps is easier to understand when more closely sequenced or set together, then it (the series and its steps) can be grouped into a single paragraph.

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For example, the phases/stages for changing a tire may include jacking up the car, removing the flat, putting on the spare, and lowering the car. The steps for just one of those phases/stages—jacking up the car—may be setting the emergency brake, blocking the other wheels, loosening the bolts, positioning the jack, and raising the car.

To ensure that the reader can duplicate the process or understand how it unfolds requires fully detailing each step and specifying the reasons for it. Indeed, the process must make clear to the reader the sequence of steps, their duration, and where they occur.

Occasionally, the chronology may contain interruptions or modifications so that it become more suitable (or be transformed in some other desired way) to its process, the reader, or both process and reader. For example, it may require background information, definitions of specialized terms, explanations of how one step relates to a preceding or following step, examples, or explanations of steps that are performed simultaneously.

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As an aside here, I can envision an interesting discussion occurring from this idea. A question: If we inject, say, the element of satire into the chronology—if the injection of satire into the chronology is one of these occasions of interruption or modification—what is the effect? Is the outcome still secure? Will we reach the same end from which we first set out and toward which we proceed? That is, does the satire that we cast into the mix result in some sort of destabilization? Something to think about…

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Compose a process analysis essay: first steps

Starting your engine

Choose a topic (i.e., that which has the process for which you will conduct your process analysis and thereby create your process analysis essay) that is interesting, is relatively complex (or that you can foresee being able to unfold into enough complexity that the purpose for your essay is not lost or sacrificed), and can be given in a series of steps.

As with other rhetorical writing modes, choose a process that you know well so that you can more easily describe the finer details about each step in the process.

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The process analysis essay thesis statement

The placement of your thesis statement within your introduction is ultimately up to you.
Rant alert:
To that point, there is neither an absolute nor a definite rule about its placement that holds any water except in the court of such a rule’s own opinion, where, of course, rule is law. And so we really ought not to feel obligated to any rule, as it were, which declares with binding certainty that the thesis statement
should
come at the end of the introduction (or at any place specified to be the correct place, the place which possesses the quality or state of being free from error), because that “rule” is working under the auspices of a system of law, which very system is working under similar auspices—!—and is therefore not actually a system of
law
but rather a system whose underlying principle is made operative by a confusion between the condition of
possibility
and the condition of
obligation
.
And what is this condition of obligation constantly made to do but eliminate the condition of possibility and bring about thereby a reverence to itself?

And so you
can
place your thesis statement at the end of your introduction—you
have the option to, the choice to, the possibility—
but you
don’t have to
.

That said, there is something that your thesis statement should do:
it should state the final outcome of the process you are describing.


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Further characteristics and necessities…

As stated earlier, body paragraphs are composed of the steps of the process. At another level, body paragraphs comprise the phases/stages of the process in the same way that the steps compose the body paragraphs.
Phases/stages are composed of body paragraphs are composed of steps.
Steps compose body paragraphs compose phases/stages.
Each step should be expressed using strong details and clear examples.
Use time transition phrases to help organize steps in the process and to orient readers.
The conclusion should thoroughly describe the result of the process described overall.

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TIP

Always have someone else read your process analysis to make sure it makes sense. Once we get too close to a subject, it is difficult to determine how clearly an idea is coming across. Having a friend or coworker read it over will serve as a good way to troubleshoot any confusing spots.

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Key Takeaways

A process analysis essay explains how to do something, how something works, or both.
The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis statement that states the outcome of the process.
The organization of a process analysis essay typically follows a chronological sequence.
Time transition phrases are particularly helpful in process analysis essays to organize steps and orient reader.


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