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You may ask yourself, how do I work this?

(Yes, thanks  to David Byrne and the Talking Heads for my opening line.)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve asked this question more than once in my lifetime.

I’m sure you’ve asked this question many times, too. For example,  how do I change my ringtone? How do I sign up for fall classes? Or how to I pick a topic for my process essay?

It’s the simple “How do I…” or “How to…” statement that is the basic premise of a process essay. In a nutshell, a process essay tells readers how to do something. (In a way, this blog post is an informal process essay, too! Whoa!)

Keep reading to learn more, as this post explains the basics of a process essay and lists 15 process essay topics to get you started.

Process Essay Basics

As the title of the essay implies, a process essay tells readers how to do something and is essentially a step-by-step essay that explains a process.

But remember, a process essay is not a set of instructions.

You’re writing an essay, so write in essay format and choose a somewhat simple process. Don’t choose a topic that is so complex that you’d need to write an instruction manual to fully explain the process.

This also means that you shouldn’t number each step and you will need to use appropriate transitions to link each step. While it’s tempting (and certainly much easier) to simply link each step with “..and then you do this” “and then you do that”, don’t because that makes for boring reading.

Time is also an important element when writing a process essay. I don’t mean the time you spend writing the essay. I mean the time it will take your audience to complete the process you’re explaining. So help your readers by being specific about how long it will take.

Not quite sure how to link ideas or which time cues might help readers? You might try a few of these transitions:

  • First, second, etc. (Be careful about using these, as you don’t want to use them in place of numbering.)
  • Before this, before
  • At the same time, simultaneously, during
  • Next
  • Meanwhile
  • After a few minutes, after a few hours, after 24 hours
  • Finally, last, lastly

Now that you have a better understanding of what makes a good process essay let’s move on to finding a topic for your paper. (See what I did there by using a transition?)

15 Process Essay Topics That Make Sense

Check out this list of process essay topics to help inspire your next writing masterpiece.

Write a process to explain how to:

1. Change Facebook privacy settings

Just about everyone could use some help changing privacy settings on Facebook. This type of process essay can easily slip into a set of directions though, so find a clever or humorous way to tell readers how to change their settings (without making them want to pull out their hair).

2. Make a good first impression

There are two key points in life where people are eager to make a good first impression: a job interview and a first date. Of course, your explanation of how to speak, act, and dress will be different for each scenario, so don’t try to write a general essay about making a good impression in every situation. Pick a specific scenario and go with it.

3. Master Call of Duty (or another video game)

If you’re a hard-core gamer, beating Call of Duty might be your life’s mission. If you want to help others complete their missions, you might write about mastering the game or simply making it through a particularly difficult section of the game.

4. Teach someone how to text

Granted, most people today already know how to text, but do you know anyone in your life, such as your great-grandmother or your four-year-old brother, who doesn’t understand texting?

Choose your words carefully. Technology can be difficult to understand, especially if you use too many terms that may be unfamiliar to your audience.

5. Train your dog to sit (or do another trick)

I’ve tried to train my dog, and he still ignores me. Part of your process for training a dog might include a few examples of what not to do. This would certainly help people like me who haven’t been able to teach their old dogs any new tricks!

6. Use Foursquare (or other social media) to meet people in your area

This essay might be less about how to actually use the app and more about how to use the technology to your advantage. How can the technology help you meet people, and why is meeting people in this way a good idea?

7. Draw a cow

When explaining how to draw an image, it’s a good idea to provide a few sketches to help readers see what you’re explaining.

Of course, you can tell someone how to draw another object, but I think it would be more fun to explain how to draw a cow. Besides, who wouldn’t want to learn to draw an awesome looking cow like the one I’ve included below?

Mouldy Sponge (www.sketchport.com )

8. Set up a good online dating profile

What makes an online profile good? That’s a tricky question.

Everyone is looking for different characteristics and personality traits in a partner, so your task in this process essay is to determine what type of person you’d like to attract and then explain to readers how to attract that person. If you’re a dog person, for instance, and want to avoid cat people, it’s probably a good idea to state that in your profile.

9. Shoot a perfect free throw

The first consideration when explaining how to shoot a perfect free throw is the experience level of your audience.

Is your audience a group of basketball players who would just like a few extra pointers on how to improve their game? Or, is your audience made of people who have never picked up a basketball and don’t even know what a free throw is?

Your audience will determine the language you use and what information you’ll include.

10.Take an amazing selfie

If you’ve ever taken a bad selfie and promptly deleted it before it ever made it to social media, then you know what not to do when taking a selfie.

So what makes a good selfie? Is it your smile, your pose, the people you’re with, or the background image? How do you combine these elements to take a selfie worthy of envy?

11. Use Etsy to start a small business

Have you started selling your handmade products on Etsy? Have you made enough money to consider quitting your other part-time job? If so, try sharing your knowledge, your experiences, and your secrets to success.

12. Bathe a cat

I don’t know how many of you have ever been able to successfully bathe a cat, but if you’re one of the select few, why not explain to your readers how it’s done!

13. Survive another boring English class

Let’s face it, lectures can be b-o-r-i-n-g. You can only listen to a professor ramble on about symbolism and metaphor for so long. So how do you get through the lecture? Try offering some practical tips on how to take notes or how to engage in the material.

You might also try writing a more lighthearted piece, explaining the importance of how quality doodling can  help students stay awake.

14. Look like a fashionista

If you have the gift of style, and think those around you could use a little advice, help them out by explaining what they need to do to look fabulous, such as a hip new haircut, a fabulous new pair of shoes, or a make-under.

15. Change the oil in your car

This step-by-step process can be a challenge because it lends itself to a set of instructions. Resist the temptation to write instructions. Instead, try mixing in practical advice, tips on what not to do, and perhaps even a few funny stories about your own mistakes.


Quick Tips on Choosing a Topic and Writing a Process Essay

As you finalize your topic choice, be sure to choose a process you’ve completed many times and that you can explain to someone else.

Need more ideas? Check out these example process essays.

If you don’t know a lot about the topic and want to research the process, you’ll learn something new, but this might not be the easiest path to writing the essay. If you haven’t already mastered the process, it will be hard to learn and write all at once.

You might even want to complete the process a few times before you begin writing to help you remember the order of steps and which steps are most important.

Finally, here’s an important tip for after you’ve written your essay.

Read your draft and follow your own advice. See if you can actually complete the process by following your step-by-step explanation. (Of course, this won’t work for every process essay, as you can’t exactly train your dog in an afternoon, but it certainly works for essays that focus on quick processes  like changing Facebook settings or taking a good selfie.)

If you’re trying to complete the process by reading your own paper, but find you are having  trouble, your readers will have trouble too. This means you’ll need to do some revision.

Know who else can help you with revision? A Kibin editor. Don’t hesitate to get some extra help to make your paper stand out!

Psst... 98% of Kibin users report better grades! Get inspiration from over 500,000 example essays.

The goal of a research paper is to bring together different views, evidence, and facts about a topic from books, articles, and interviews, then interpret the information into your own writing. It's about a relationship between you, other writers, and your teacher/audience.

A research paper will show two things: what you know or learned about a certain topic, and what other people know about the same topic. Often you make a judgment, or just explain complex ideas to the reader. The length of the research paper depends on your teacher's guidelines. It's always a good idea to keep your teacher in mind while writing your paper because the teacher is your audience.

The Process

There are three stages for doing a research paper. These stages are:

  • Prewriting (here)
  • Writing (here)
  • Revising (here)

While most people start with prewriting, the three stages of the writing process overlap. Writing is not the kind of process where you have to finish step one before moving on to step two, and so on. Your job is to make your ideas as clear as possible for the reader, and that means you might have to go back and forth between the prewriting, writing and revising stages several times before submitting the paper.


» Prewriting

Thinking about a topic

The first thing you should do when starting your research paper is to think of a topic. Try to pick a topic that interests you and your teacher -- interesting topics are easier to write about than boring topics! Make sure that your topic is not too hard to research, and that there is enough material on the topic. Talk to as many people as possible about your topic, especially your teacher. You'll be surprised at the ideas you'll get from talking about your topic. Be sure to always discuss potential topics with your teacher.

Places you can find a topic: newspapers, magazines, ALADIN, television news, the World Wide Web, and even in the index of a textbook!

Narrowing down your topic

As you think about your topic and start reading, you should begin thinking about a possible thesis statement (a sentence or two explaining your opinion about the topic). One technique is to ask yourself one important question about your topic, and as you find your answer, the thesis can develop from that. Some other techniques you may use to narrow your topic are: jot lists; preliminary outlines; listing possible thesis statements; listing questions; and/or making a concept map. It also may be helpful to have a friend ask you questions about your topic.

For help on developing your thesis statement, see the English Center Guide to Developing a Thesis Statement.


Discovery/Reading about your topic

You need to find information that helps you support your thesis. There are different places you can find this information: books, articles, people (interviews), and the World Wide Web.

As you gather the information or ideas you need, you need to make sure that you take notes and write down where and who you got the information from. This is called "citing your sources." If you write your paper using information from other writers and do not cite the sources, you are committing plagiarism. If you plagiarize, you can get an "F" on your paper, fail the course, or even get kicked out of school.

CITING SOURCES

There are three major different formats for citing sources. They are: the Modern Language Association (MLA), the American Psychology Association (APA), and the Chicago Turabian style. Always ask your teacher which format to use. For more information on these styles, see our other handouts!

ORGANIZING INFORMATION

After you've thought, read, and taken notes on your topic, you may want to revise your thesis because a good thesis will help you develop a plan for writing your paper. One way you can do this is to brainstorm -- think about everything you know about your topic, and put it down on paper. Once you have it all written down, you can look it over and decide if you should change your thesis statement or not.

If you already developed a preliminary map or outline, now is the time to go back and revise it. If you haven't developed a map or outline yet, now is the time to do it. The outline or concept map should help you organize how you want to present information to your readers. The clearer your outline or map, the easier it will be for you to write the paper. Be sure that each part of your outline supports your thesis. If it does not, you may want to change/revise your thesis statement again.

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» Writing

A research paper follows a standard compositional (essay) format. It has a title, introduction, body and conclusion. Some people like to start their research papers with a title and introduction, while others wait until they've already started the body of the paper before developing a title and introduction. See this link for more information about writing introductions and conclusions.

Some techniques that may help you with writing your paper are:

  • start by writing your thesis statement
  • use a free writing technique (What I really mean is...)
  • follow your outline or map
  • pretend you are writing a letter to a friend, and tell them what you know about your topic
  • follow your topic notecards

If you're having difficulties thinking of what to write about next, you can look back at your notes that you have from when you were brainstorming for your topic.

» Revising

The last (but not least) step is revising. When you are revising, look over your paper and make changes in weak areas. The different areas to look for mistakes include: content-- too much detail, or too little detail; organization/structure (which is the order in which you write information about your topic); grammar; punctuation; capitalization; word choice; and citations.

It probably is best if you focus on the "big picture" first. The "big picture" means organization (paragraph order), and content (ideas and points) of the paper. It also might help to go through your paper paragraph by paragraph and see if the main idea of each paragraph relates to the thesis. Be sure to keep an eye out for any repeated information (one of the most common mistakes made by students is having two or more paragraphs with the same information). Often good writers combine several paragraphs into one so they do not repeat information.


Revision Guidelines

  • The audience understands your paper.
  • The sentences are clear and complete.
  • All paragraphs relate to the thesis.
  • Each paragraph explains its purpose clearly.
  • You do not repeat large blocks of information in two or more different paragraphs.
  • The information in your paper is accurate.
  • A friend or classmate has read through your paper and offered suggestions.

After you are satisfied with the content and structure of the paper, you then can focus on common errors like grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, typos, and word choice.


Proofreading Guidelines

  • Subjects and verbs agree.
  • Verb tenses are consistent.
  • Pronouns agree with the subjects they substitute.
  • Word choices are clear.
  • Capitalization is correct.
  • Spelling is correct.
  • Punctuation is correct.
  • References are cited properly.

For more information on proofreading, see the English Center Punctuation and Grammar Review.

After writing the paper, it might help if you put it aside and do not look at it for a day or two. When you look at your paper again, you will see it with new eyes and notice mistakes you didn't before. It's a really good idea to ask someone else to read your paper before you submit it to your teacher. Good writers often get feedback and revise their paper several times before submitting it to the teacher.

 

Source: "Process of Writing a Research Paper," by Ellen Beck and Rachel Mingo with contributions from Jules Nelson Hill and Vivion Smith, is based on the previous version by Dawn Taylor, Sharon Quintero, Robert Rich, Robert McDonald, and Katherine Eckhart.

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