WRITING THE PROCESS ANALYSIS ESSAY

Page updated: 21-Aug-2012 02:42 AM

Choosing Your Topic

As with most of the essays you write in this course, I want you to pick topics that are unusual, ones that are mundane.  By mundane, I mean topics that are ordinary.  You do not need to write about topics that everyone has heard about before, for they tend to be boring.  What is more interesting is to take a topic that usually doesn't get top billing when it comes to essay writing.  The essay on doing laundry is an example of what I am talking about.  The laundry is certainly not a lofty topic, not something academicians spend lots of time talking about, and it definitely is not rocket science.  Yet part of what will make you a better writer and a way for you to exercise your creativity is practicing your writing on these unusual, mundane topics.  A topic like laundry affords many different and interesting angles into the topic that readers are not likely to expect   And it is this angle that will make your unique voice on the topic emerge.

Structuring Your Essay

Sandwiched between your introductory paragraph and the concluding paragraphs are the major stages for the process that you are describing.  These major stages make up the paragraphs in your main body.  So, each stage will have at least one paragraph devoted to it.  If the stage is really broad, then 2 paragraphs might be required to develop it.

Once you figure out the major stages in your process, next you will need to sketch out the steps within each stage.  These steps are equivalent to the details that make up different kinds of essay paragraphs.  You just have to remember to be very specific, to not omit any essential steps, and to present the steps in sequence.  So the more planning that goes into this essay, the more successful your end result will be.  Consider this generic structure compared to the outline for the "Dirty Laundry" essay:

Generic Process Outline Outline for Doing Laundry
INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH
  • Stage A
    • step 1
    • step 2
    • step 3
  • Stage B
    • step 1
    • step 2
    • step 3
    • step 4
    • step 5
    • step 6
    • step 7
  • Stage C
    • step 1
    • step 2
    • step 3
    • step 4
  • Stage D
    • step 1
    • step 2
  • Stage E
    • step 1
    • step 2
    • step 3

CONCLUSION PARAGRAPH

INTRODUCTORY PARAGRAPH
  • Stage A: Sorting the laundry
    • step 1
    • step 2
    • step 3
  • Stage B: Pre-washing
    • step 1
    • step 2
    • step 3
  • Stage C: Washing
    • step 1
    • step 2
    • step 3
    • step 4
  • Stage D: Drying
    • step 1
    • step 2
  • Stage E: Folding
  • Stage F: Ironing
  • Stage G: Storing

CONCLUSION PARAGRAPH


Notice in the generic outline on the left that the paragraphs do not have an equal number of steps because each stage is not of identical depth.  On the right, you see the actual outline for the essay on how to do laundry.  It is broken down into 7 different stages.  As you remember from class, we discussed the fact the the sample essay omitted the last 3 stages: folding, ironing, and storing.  When we began talking about all the information that was required to thoroughly write about the folding stage, it became painfully clear that so many steps would be involved to explain how to fold each different article of clothing--from shirts to shorts, from pants to socks--that conceivably another essay could be written just on the art of folding laundry.  So if you still have not found an interesting topic yet....

As you can see, a good deal more in involved in explaining how to do laundry when you start examining the process in detail.

Finding an Angle

Finding an interesting angle is always the tough part of any essay topic, for you want to take control of the subject and make it your own.  This essay on laundry could have been written any number of ways, but the straightforward, serious approach did not appeal to me.  So instead, I tried to come to the topic from a lighthearted, humorous angle.  If you remember, the thesis is a bit outrageous, even arrogant.  What right do I have to claim that I have the best way to do laundry, implying that if the reader doesn't do laundry my way then she's been doing it wrong?  That's a pretty risky claim to make in a thesis, but remember that my goal is to hook my reader into reading further.  While I hope that I haven't offended my audience, I do hope that the approach has made them curious enough to read further.

When finish the first quarter of the essay when it tells you that about 8 loads of laundry should be sitting on your bedroom floor, the reader should (I hope) realize that number of loads is sort of preposterous.  I want the reader see the exaggeration working in the essay.  And how do I make the exaggeration work?  I hope it works because it details the process of doing laundry in meticulous steps.  If the reader has a chuckle along the way, then my goal to entertain the audience has been successful.  If I have turned off the reader, well, then my risk did not pay off.  But again, my purpose was to have some fun with this everyday, boring, mundane topic and bring a new approach to it.

Thoroughness

The idea of being thorough is probably harder than finding a good angle to approach a piece of writing because this means the writer has to step outside her writerly universe and pretend to be a reader.  It's not a simple task.

As you are writing this essay, you most likely will get to a point where you think you have said everything you could possibly put down on paper.  This is what I call writer-based prose.  All it means is that the writer is looking at the subject only from his point of view, not that of his readers.  The writer's goal is always to get to a level of reader-based prose.  When the writer is able to anticipate questions and concerns that his audience is going to have and deal with those issues before the audience raises them, then the writer is communicating in reader-based prose.  As a result, the piece of writing is considered thorough at this point.

For this process-analysis essay, "thorough" means not forgetting any of the major stages of the process nor any of the smaller steps within each of the larger stages.  If any of the steps is left out, then the process is doomed to backfire if the reader follows the instructions faithfully.  A good test for thoroughness is to give your essay to someone you trust to read your essay thoughtfully and meticulously.  You want someone who will follow literally everything you've written.  Or at the very least, find someone who is unfamiliar with the process and ask her to try to do what the essay explains.  You know you have more work if the reader has questions or gets confused or does the wrong thing.  After this test run, you should know where you need to add more details or information.

Writing in the Implied Second Person Instead of the Direct Second Person

It is really tempting to use the pronouns "you", "your", "yourself", "yours".  These pronouns are what writers call the second person.  In essence, you are directly referring to the reader rather than to a larger public audience.  Now in this process-analysis essay--because you are explaining how to do something--it seems natural to use these pronouns.  If fact, if you take a look at the "Dirty Laundry" essay, you will notice that I use the second person quite frequently.  Sparingly use the direct second person in your papers!  Take a look at this passage below from the essay.  What we want to do is shift these second person point of view sentences into the second person implied.

The washer-dryer stage is where the uninitiated dilettante can, quite bluntly, goof-up. Most people think the order of the loads doesn�t matter too much when it comes to washing and drying. While this belief is wholeheartedly true if you wash your clothes under the auspices of a laundromat, I�m thinking of those college students who are fortunate enough to be living at home still, or who at least have limited laundry facilities on their premises. The white load always must be laundered last for two simple reasons: sloppiness and laziness. First this is the load that, under no uncertain circumstances, must be bathed in bleach. If by your misguided fortune you happen to carelessly dribble or unknowingly splash bleach on the shelf or interior sides of the basin that don�t get hit with water, you most certainly will drag the next load over the un-evaporated puddle of bleach and irreversibly ruin that pair of $78 Calvin Klein indigo jeans you didn�t intend to perform tie-dye miracles upon. Second, you want the white load to be last because after five to six hours of laundry duty, you�re going to be exhausted, and the last thing you want to do is have to fold that last load of clothes before you relieve yourself of your watch. Usually it is safe to leave this load in the dryer until you absolutely need a pair of socks or until you are down to your last pair of jockey shorts because it simply doesn�t matter whether these clothes get wrinkled. And if you do have that one blouse that doesn�t say "permanent press," then of course, you will be obliged to dutifully fold, iron, and properly hang it in your closet.

If by misguided fortune some bleach happens to carelessly dribble or unknowingly splash bleach itself on the shelf or interior sides of the basin that don�t get hit with water, you most certainly the un-evaporated bleach will find its way into a red polo shirt in the next load will be dragged the next load over the un-evaporated puddle of bleach and and perform its irreversible tie-dye magic on irreversibly ruin that pair of $78 Calvin Klein indigo jeans. you  didn�t intend to perform tie-dye miracles upon.

Wow, I have to admit that this little bit of editing took more time than I had thought.  I spent about 15-20 minutes tinkering with just this one sentence in the paragraph.  But the time was worth the payoff.  Why?  Compare the passages.  Notice that the bleach, an inanimate object, has been given human qualities.  No longer is the bleach stain the result of the inept laundry person, but the bleach has come to live and is responsible for getting in and staining the next load of laundry.  When inanimate objects come to life, writers call that technique personification.  The sentence, from a literary perspective, is much better than the original sentence because now it has a couple layers to it, and a wary reader should be able to notice that and appreciate the sentence on an additional level.  

Obviously if I were to continue at this, much more time is going to be involved.  That is what will make the difference between an "A" paper and a "B" paper.  The writer has taken time to polish her prose down to the selection of and arrangement of individual words.  The result, though, is that the writer will be much more satisfied with the sentence, and the writer will develop a keener sense of how to use and manipulate the language.

Here is another example from the same essay, but it is a lot easier to change the POV from second person direct (you) and even the 1st person (I) to second person implied.  Study the revised paragraph to understand how this sentence-level change is accomplished:

I always find that since the sorting stage of laundry requires the most concentration, you should pick a time when your mind is at its peak.  For me this is late in the evening, sometime after ten o�clock.  Any other time, especially in the afternoon, I risk hazarding sorting an article of clothing into the wrong pile, which means certain failure somewhere else through the process.  Aside from your concentration, the laundry demands that you are alert and quick to catch any mistake you might make.

I always find that Since the sorting stage of laundry requires the most concentration, you should pick a time when your the mind is at its peak sharpest. For me this is late in the evening, sometime after ten o�clock.  Any other time, especially in the afternoonThis might be early in the morning or after a freshly brewed cup of Starbuck�s double-shot espresso, but the point is to not to I risk hazarding sorting an article of clothing into the wrong pile, which means certain failure somewhere else through the process.  Aside from your concentration, sorting the laundry demands that you are alertness and quick to catch any irreversible mistake you might make.

You can see that the meaning hasn't changed, but the tone has.  The paragraph is less casual--but be quick to notice that it is not formal or overly stuffy either.  What a difference it can make to work with word choice and point of view!