A process essay explains how something is done. It gives the reader specific instructions.
One key to a successful process essay is to choose a task that has the appropriate level of difficulty for the length of the essay. A writer may struggle to fill three pages with directions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but there are many more complicated recipes that could easily run that length. On the other hand, explaining how to install a new furnace in a one-page paper is probably too ambitious.
Once a topic is chosen, the essay needs a thesis statement that tells readers what they will learn from reading the essay and makes reference to the steps. Depending on how complicated the process is, the writer may list the steps or may simply refer to them by number. For example, a simpler process essay might have a thesis statement like this: Making a cake involves mixing the ingredients together, baking the cake in the oven and putting frosting on it. A more complex process essay would not attempt to name every step: Replacing a flat tyre is a five-step process.
A common error in process essays is not giving the reader enough information. It’s best to assume that the audience for a process paper is one of intelligent readers with little experience of the process described. Therefore, the reader of a process essay about making a cake doesn’t need to be told that the grocery store is the place to purchase ingredients for the cake, but saying to cook the cake until it’s done would be too vague. Suggesting a baking time and adding that the reader should insert a fork into the cake to see if it has set is more concrete and useful.
Point of View
Process essays are one of the only instances of academic writing in which it is usually acceptable to use “you,” second person point of view. Because process essays are written as instructions to the reader, the reader can be addressed directly with sentences such as “You should be sure that you don’t get any eggshells in the cake batter.” Point of view should remain consistent. If the writer begins the cake baking essay by addressing the reader as “you,” that should not be changed to “the baker” partway through the essay.
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