Process Analysis

Learning Objectives

  • Explain process analysis

Process analysis is one of the most common types of analysis writing that you will encounter in business and in technical fields. Process analysis can directly result in changes to the process. If you were to analyze the process of order distribution at an underperforming fast-food restaurant, you could, for example, use the analysis to develop changes to improve the restaurant’s performance.

Writing About Processes

In order to effectively analyze a particular process, you first have to understand how to write about processes more generally.

The words "SEO Process" in a circle surrounded by 8 smaller circles naming the parts of the process.

Figure 1. If you were to effectively analyze the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) process, you would first have to understand and comprehend the many different parts of that process.

Process is a rhetorical style that provides step-by-step directions or explanatory guidance. You may encounter quite a few process essays of various types in academic writing—everything from a traditional process essay in which you choose a topic and describe the process, to a lab report in which you describe the process of conducting a lab experiment.

A process essay is structured around the goal of providing the reader with directions or guidance. Most of the time, students write process essays that discuss how to do something. Process essays are the recipes or technical brochures of essay writing.

Processes can be classified a few ways, but for our purposes, they can be broken down into processes by people, processes by machines, and processes by nature.

Let’s think of some examples for each category:

People Machines Nature
  • Explanation of how to change a tire
  • Description of how students collaboratively write a report
  • Description of how people embark and disembark from an airplane
  • Explanation of how a photocopier works
  • Description of how highway designs facilitate traffic flow
  • Description of how a car detects that fuel is low
  • Explanation of the changing of the seasons
  • Description of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly
  • Description of how a river changes its flow path

Analyzing a Process

The first step in analyzing a process is understanding what the process is. In fact, part of writing the analysis is usually describing the process itself. Process analysis relies heavily on exposition but, depending upon the purpose of your analysis, may be more or less comprehensive. Process analysis can be classified as descriptive and prescriptive.

Descriptive Prescriptive
Explain, speculate, or argue about “How is this done?”

Audiences: Students, researchers, curious people

Media: Essays, magazines, websites, video

Explain “How should this be done?”

Audiences: technicians, users, decision-makers

Media: User manuals, policy guides, tutorials

Try It

What does this mean for you as a college student given an assignment to write a “process analysis”? Well, it means you should pay very close attention to the assignment description to find out what kind of analysis you should do. Let’s look at the following sample assignment:

Try It

Imagine that you are taking a class and receive the following assignment prompt:

Engineers are generally great problem solvers. But first, they need to thoroughly understand and analyze the problem before they can suggest a solution.

Your assignment is to analyze a problem or issue that you routinely encounter on your campus or in your community. You will identify the problem or issue, investigate it to understand how or why it exists, collect and analyze data through field observations, and finally present the results of your analysis in the form of a 3–4 page report. Your report will conclude with recommendations for resolving the issue.

Purpose: To recommend a resolution to a problem or issue on the basis of an analysis you conduct using field observations.

Audience: Members of your college or local community who would be interested in the resolution of the issue.

Format: 3–4-page report format with at least one graphic. Raw data should be collected on the Field Observation template and attached to the final report.

Answer the following questions to help you develop a plan for writing this process analysis assignment.


process: a rhetorical style that provides step-by-step directions or explanatory guidance