Rhetorical Patterns - Process

The Rhetorical Patterns - Organizing Essays for Different Rhetorical Situations

The following pages will provide you with several effective ways of organizing information in your essays. Oftentimes, when you know who your audience is and what your purpose is for writing (which is called your rhetorical situation), you can begin to consider the organization of what is going to be in your paper, how you will introduce your paper, and what to write for your conclusion. The following rhetorical patterns will help you answer these questions.  

Narration  |  Description  |  Process  |  Exemplification  |  Classification  |  Comparison and Contrast
Cause and Effect  |  Persuasion and Argument


Definition: A process is an action that proceeds through a series of steps and achieves a desired goal. Primarily, process analysis explains how something happened or happens. A process analysis either analyzes the procedures for a completed act or explains the procedure for an upcoming act. A process paper, for instance, can explain the route you took from your home to your friend’s new apartment or it can literally be the directions to set the clock on your DVD player. 

Description: A process analysis often closely resembles step-by-step instructions.   

A process analysis will answer the following questions:

  • What is to be done? 
  • How long will it take? What will be needed?  
  • Where should it happen and when should it happen? 
  • What are the steps needed to complete the action? 
  • Are any parts of the process overly dangerous, very complicated, or overly easy? 

A process analysis often includes the sequence, the instructions, and any procedures along the way. 

Conventions: Recall a time you followed directions and did not complete what you wanted to do. It quite likely was the fault of the directions. Oftentimes, readers skim over important parts of a process when those important parts are not placed in noticeable places. It is better to be overcautious and to belabor a description of a step than it is to not pay sufficient attention to it. Readers often appreciate a description after each step is given. This seems normal when you consider good directions: take a left (the step) and you will notice a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on your right (the description). The description helps your readers insure that they are following the steps correctly. One thing that many readers of directions look for is the use of the second person; using the word “you” often helps readers comprehend an action. For instance, writing “the oven must not preheat” is less effective than writing, “you should not preheat the oven.” Also, make sure that you discuss all the things that are needed for the entire process, from start to finish, before you start describing the process. Maintain an interesting and engaging but consistent tone throughout the essay. 

Strategies:  Consider whether you are giving steps/directions or providing information about something that has already happened. For the first, employ a direct tone with your readers: you can grow mammoth sunflowers using these four steps. For the second, carefully consider how you will present your process: there were several steps involved in President Obama being elected president in 2008. For either method of process, consider the whole operation from one end to the other, or from start to finish. How long will it take? How long is the distance? What must be endured? Try to divide the entire operation into separate sequences. Ask yourself how this thing happened or happens. 

Organization:  Thoughtful consideration of how to best describe the entire operation to your readers should guide the organization of your process essay. Readers will need several things in a process essay, and they will need them at specific places in the essay. For instance, an overview of the entire process should be in the introduction, along with the any needed items, and, normally, a one sentence description of the entire operation as a thesis statement. Each major step is usually given an entire body paragraph, and, when necessary, a series of smaller steps can be combined and included in one body paragraph. Do not forget to forewarn your readers of any possible dangers or cautions during the operation. Normally, the conclusion describes the results of the operation.

Strategies:  Consider the level of skills your readers bring to the operation. If they know quite a bit about the operation, then don’t bore them with unnecessary details. However, if you are uncertain about your readers and their experiences, then make sure that you provide sufficient details for them to safely and satisfactorily complete the entire operation. Arrange the operation chronologically, if possible. Divide the operation into steps and carefully consider all the information that must be given for each step’s completion. Organize these major steps into paragraphs. Read over the entire operation after you have written it with an eye tuned for anything that you may have forgotten.

What should I put in my introduction?  
Tell your readers exactly what they will need to do the job. Suppose you were carefully following directions while you assembled a television stand or a book shelf. Let’s say that you had most of the job done, when around step #18, the directions told you: “Use your Allen wrench to cinch the bolts tightly.” “Allen wrench?” you might yell because you did not know you needed one and did not own one. Because of that omission, the entire process would come to a halt. That said, you should always provide three elements of the process in your introduction, or before you begin providing the process:

  1. A quick overview of the entire job explaining briefly what will be accomplished
  2. An exhaustive list of all of the items needed to complete the process
  3. An indication of the average time to complete the entire process

The introduction might also contain analogies about the process. For instance, writing a college paper (the process) might be analogous to building a sandcastle (the analogy). Getting a promotion at work (the process) might be analogous to succeeding in a college course (the analogy). Oftentimes, analogies help readers see an overview of something else, which helps them to clarify what they are about to do. 

What is a process thesis statement?

The thesis statement, which normally is at the end of the introduction, usually expresses in a sentence the overview of the process: 

Following these directions, you can create the perfect holiday dinner.

How can I organize the body paragraphs?

The most common convention of step-by-step directions is to organize the process according to the steps undertaken to complete the process. Consider the following ideas:

One step, one paragraph

Each of the body paragraphs should treat a major step involved in the process. 

Related steps can be grouped into one body paragraph

What should I put in my paper’s conclusion?

Since the process paper is functional and practical, the conclusion, like the introduction, has some conventions that readers will look for and appreciate finding. The conclusion is a good place in your paper to go over the major steps once again, just to insure that your readers have done them all. With some jobs, like changing a tire, missing a step will be quite clear, because the job will not get finished. 

Process Revision Checklist 

  • Have you written what was assigned, an analysis/explanation or a set of directions/”how to” paper?
  • Does your introduction give your readers an overview of the process, what they will need, and how much time the project will take?
  • Does your thesis statement sum up the paper’s goal?
  • Are your steps in the correct order? Could they be better organized? 
  • Do you provide the right balance of information and instructions/directions in your paper? Is anything missing?
  • Does your tone or style intrude into the actual act of performing the steps? 
  • Is your paper perfectly comprehensible?
  • Have you used transition words—like next, after that, and notice--to indicate that steps are finished and new steps are beginning?
  • Did you sum up all the steps in your conclusion?
  • Have you carefully revised your paper for grammatical/mechanical correctness? Have you asked a peer-reviewer to read the paper for organization, content, and sentence construction?