When using nonfiction writing methods discussed in this series, the question to ask about each method is: Can I use this method to enhance my explanation of my topic? For this article, the question is: Can I use process analysis with my topic?
PROCESS ANALYSIS DEFINED
A process analysis refers to instructional writing, setting down the step-by-step instructions to accomplish a task or goal. These individual steps need to be done in sequence or the instructions will not work. In fact, warnings and cautions are often included to prevent physical injury if the steps are done out of sequence or wrong.
Usually the tasks or goals relate to doing something physical, such as installing a garage door opener, baking a cake from scratch, or fixing a photocopy machine with a jam.
If you are writing a process analysis, it is best to actually do the steps as you know them, note the steps in sequence, and record all relevant details that might affect the user’s performance in finishing the task. Remember, you are familiar with the process and may forget some of the lesser steps or details. Your readers need these details to accomplish the task. If you think your reader might need some reasons for doing the process in this order, include the reasoning.
Also think as if you are an average person, not paying attention very well while trying to perform this new and unfamiliar task; note any cautions or warnings that the user might need a “heads-up” for to prevent injury. This is especially true when working with electricity and other potentially fatal elements.
Process analysis, or instructional writing, often includes visuals, showing the user each step, often with diagrams showing the part exploded (so the user can see how the part is put together). Think of those bookshelf assembly instructions you have read and used.
WHEN TO USE A PROCESS ANALYSIS
If you have a step-by-step process somewhere within your topic, or could add one to enhance understanding, then use it.
In addition to the three listed above, you could also describe the steps to changing your own oil in your car.
You could also write instructions (which I used in my Composition classes, to hysterical results) of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You would be amazed how many sandwiches had the knife still in the sandwich or had only one layer of bread.
QUESTIONS FOR DETERMINING USE OF A PROCESS ANALYSIS
1. Does your topic include one or more processes that need to be explained? Do they enable the reader to do a physical task that uses tools or ingredients or such?
2. Would you need to include visuals to enhance understanding?
3. How much space would such a process analysis take, including visuals? Does your writing project have that kind of space available?
4. At what reading level should you write the instructions so that you audience can really understand the steps and task?
5. Where should you place these instructions: within the text, in their own section or chapter, or at the end of the book or workbook?
6. If the task is really complicated, should you break the steps up into sections or groups of tasks? Name each section with a unique, telling name, to be used as an outline.
Process analysis offers details sought after by readers since they are always looking for good, accurate, easy to understand “how to” information. Make your topic more useful to your readers by including process analysis where appropriate in your writing.
The other method relating to writing instructions is called writing General Advice, which will be discussed in the next article in this series.