Instructions for Writing a Process Paper

A process paper describes how to do something or how something works. If you know how to do something well, then you should easily be able to describe the process of doing that thing. There are two different kinds of process papers. The first is the “How To” paper and the second is the “Explanation” paper. The difference between the two is the difference between writing a paper on how to build an airplane and writing a paper on how an airplane flies. The first lists components and gives assembly instructions; the second explains the theory of how it actually works.

The “How To” Process Paper

When you write a “how to” paper, you should write it as if you intend for the reader to learn how to carry out a process, such as making a cake or a candle, or performing an action, such as vacuuming a carpet or washing up. It is important to choose a subject that is simple and straightforward, so don’t be tempted to pick something that has a long and complex process.

Your essay should be written in a way that it is easy for the reader to imagine each step to achieve the desired result. Introduce the subject generally in your opening paragraph before moving on into the requirements and stages of the process, and then close your essay with a concluding paragraph.

The “Explanation” Process Paper

When you write an explanation paper, you are doing so in order to explain how something happens or has happened, without expecting the reader to carry out the process. For instance, you might write a process paper on how the human body circulates blood or why it rains. You must write fully and clearly about the subject so the reader can understand and visualize the process, but you must also be concise and make sure you don’t wander off the point by getting long-winded and wordy about it.

Make sure your essay covers the salient points of your subject. Keep in mind that it should cover cause and effect, as well as what, where, when and how. Start with an introduction to explain what you are writing about and why you chose the subject. Wrap up your paper with a concise summary as your conclusion.

Important Points to Remember

There are a few important things to keep in mind when you write a process paper. You must identify the steps in the process you are describing and put them in chronological order.

Let’s say your topic is pitching a baseball. This may seem simple, but there are a few steps involved in the process, such as the proper placement of the fingers on the laces, the distance to home plate, and the type of pitch you wish to throw. Obviously, when you write on this subject, you would start with the proper placement of fingers on the laces of the ball before you describe the wind up and throw. Use transitional words or phrases like first, second, next, last, and finally.

Proper Formatting

Once your professor has assigned you an essay task, you will be asked to use a particular writing format style, whether MLA, APA or another. In most cases, you will likely need to follow the MLA guidelines unless you are writing a process for a scientific study. Writing formats require their own particular citation styles. Formatting software will ensure that you use the proper citation style to adhere to the MLA guidelines, and it will make it easier for your reader to validate your sources. Formatting software helps you to avoid a deduction in points for not following the proper guidelines.

David Plaut is the founder of Reference Point Software (RPS). RPS offers a complete suite of easy-to-use formatting template products featuring MLA and APA style templates, freeing up time to focus on substance while ensuring formatting accuracy. For more information, log onto or write to:
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Reference Point Software is not associated with, endorsed by, or affiliated with the American Psychological Association (APA) or with the Modern Language Association (MLA).

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