As readers, we are surrounded by process narratives. Every time we follow a recipe, assemble something that comes out of the box in pieces, or try to learn how to do something or how something happens, we are facing a process narrative. As these examples suggest, process comes in two main formsone tells us how to do or make something; the other tells us how something is done or happens. A recipe, a set of directions for assembly, or a how-to-do-it narrative are examples of the first type of process; a description of how a volcano erupts or how a CD player works are examples of the second type. The success of a process narrative is pretty easy for readers to measure. If the recipe turns out, if we can assemble the pieces into a working whole, if we can clearly understand how something happens, the process narrative is a success.
Process and the Writer
Process writing begins with a clear understanding of the needs and knowledge of our audience and of the subject about which we are writing. Why does our audience need this information? What does that audience already know about the process? Will it be, for example, familiar with technical terms or should those be explained? Do we, as writers, fully understand the process about which we are writing? We can't tell a reader how to do something or how something happens unless we clearly understand the process first. If we are certain about these two things, the rest of the writing process is fairly simple. We need to divide the task or process into a series of clearly defined steps; we need to arrange those steps in parallel grammatical form and in the correct chronological order; and we need to mark or call out those steps using markers (for example, "first," "then," "finally").