Process Analysis

Learning Objectives

  • Identify different types of analytic processes
  • Apply different types of analytic processes

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.

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

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 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

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:

Example assignment

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 here on campus or in Oxford. You will identify the problem or issue, investigate it to understand how or why it exists, then 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 the University or Oxford 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 to this process analysis assignment.