A process is a series of actions, and fundamentally the description of a process is the description of action. The action may be either one of two types. One type is that in which attention is focused on the performance of a human being, or possibly a group of human beings. A simple example is filing a workpiece by hand; in a description of this process, emphasis would fall naturally upon the human skills required. The other type involves action in which a human operator either is not directly concerned at all, or inconspicuous. An instance is the functioning of a contactor.
In describing almost any process, regardless of types there are problems that usually arises and these are:
1. adaptation of the description to the reader
2. overall organization
3. use of illustrations
Adapting the description to the reader depends, as always, upon an analysis of the reader’s needs. As in the description of a mechanism, if the reader wishes to use the description as a practical guide, it becomes necessary for the writer to give careful attention to every detail. If the reader is interested only in acquiring a general knowledge of the principles involved and has no intention of trying to perform the process or to direct its performance, the writer should avoid many of the details and emphasize the broad outlines of the process.
The fundamental organization of a process description is simple, consisting merely of an introduction followed by a description of each step in the process in the order in which they occur. But this simplicity is usually marred by the necessity of discussing the equipment and the materials used.
There are basically two ways of incorporating the discussion of equipment and materials into the description as a whole. One is to lump it all together in a section near the beginning; the other is to introduce each piece of equipment and each bit of material as it happens to come up in the explanation of the steps in the process. The advantage of confining the description of equipment and materials to a single section near the beginning is that such discussion does not then interrupt the steps in the action itself. This method is usually practical if the equipment and materials are not numerous. If they happen to be so numerous or so complex that the reader might have difficulty in remembering them, the other method of taking them up as they appear in the process is preferable. The second method is by far the more common.
A process description is organized as follows:
Equipment and Materials
Step-by-step description of the action
Conclusion (if necessary)
PART I OPERATOR TAKES A CONSPICUOUS PART
In the description wherein the operator takes a conspicuous part, still the description is divided into; introduction, step-by-step description, and conclusion.
A. The introduction
The introduction of the description of a process is a comprehensive answer to the question, “What are you doing?” An answer to the question can be given by answering still other questions, principally the following:
- What is this process?
- Who performs this process?
- Why is this process performed?
- What are chief steps in this process?
- From what point of view is this process going to be considered in this discussion?
- Why is this process being described?
It is not always necessary to answer all six questions, and it is not necessary to answer them in the order in which they happen to be listed. It will be helpful to consider each question in turn to get some notion of what is needed to be done.
1. What is this process?
Early in the report readers must be told enough about what the process is, so that, they can grasp the general idea. The way in which this explanation is given depends upon how much the readers are presumed to know about the process, as well as upon the nature of the process itself. “What is this process?” is simply a problem of definition, and therefore the use of comparison and of generalized description is often particularly helpful.
2. Who performs this process?
Very often the statement about who performs the process will appear as a natural or necessary element in some other part of the introduction. Often no statement is required.
3. Why is this process performed?
It is absolutely necessary that the reader know why the process is performed – what its purpose is. Sometimes simply explaining what the process is, or defining it, makes the purpose
clear. Sometimes, however, the purpose of a process may not be clear from a statement of what it is or how it is performed. Then it is necessary to be quite explicit in stating its complete purpose.
4. What are the chief steps in this process?
The listing of the chief steps in the process is an important part of the introduction. It is important because it helps the reader understand the process before the details of its execution are presented. Even more important is its function in telling the reader what to expect in the material that follows. It is a transitional device. It prepares the reader for what lies ahead. The list of steps may appear as a formal list, with a number or letter standing beside each step. If this method seems too mechanical, the steps may be stated in ordinary sentence form, with or without numbers or letters. The steps should be discussed in the order in which they are listed.
5. From what point of view is this process to be discussed? Why is this process being described?
The latter question calls for a specific statement of purpose – the purpose of including the description of this process in the report of which it is a part. In other words, readers will want to know why you are asking them to take time to read your description of the process. Be careful to keep in mind the distinction between the purpose you have in writing about it. These are very different matters. The first of the two questions is likewise related to the matter of purpose, but here the interest is not in why the process is being described; rather it is in why it is being described in a particular way or from a given point of view.
The chief steps
With the possible exception of the discussion of equipment and materials, the introduction to a description is followed directly by a description of the chief steps in the process. Two problems appear in organizing the description of the chief steps.
One is how to organize the steps; the other is how to organize the material within each individual step.
The organization of the steps can be dismissed at once for it is chronological in order. The organization within the description of the individual steps requires more discussion. It is because, each individual step constitutes a process in itself. The individual step should therefore be introduced properly, and if necessary, divided into substeps. Its description is essentially a miniature of the description of the process as a whole.
Description of the action
In describing the action, the writer must say everything the readers need to know to understand, perhaps even to visualize the process. The omission of a slight detail may be enough to spoil everything. Care should be taken not only in connection with the details of what is done, but also of how it is done. The content of the description of a process is governed by the reader’s need to comprehend every step in the action.
What constitutes style in writing is very well discussed in the last semester of the study in TC. A discussion in style in the description of a mechanism however would focus on the problem of choice of the mood and voice of the predicate, and of the noun or pronoun used as a subject. A good many possibilities exist, but three are of special importance: the active voice and indicative mood, the passive voice and indicative mood, and the active voice and imperative mood.
Active Voice, Indicative Mood:
The next step is the application of the solder to the joint. This step requires the use of only the heated iron (or copper), and a length of the rosin-core solder. The solderer takes the iron in one hand and the solderer in the other, and holds the iron steadily against the wire joint for a moment to heat the wire. Then he or she presses the solder lightly against the joint, letting enough of it melt and flow over the wire to form a coating about the entire joint.
Passive Voice, Indicative Mood:
The next step is the application of the solder to the joint. This step requires the use of only the heated iron, and a length of the rosin-core solder. The iron is held steadily against the wire joint for a moment to heat the wire. Then the solder is pressed lightly against the joint until enough of it has melted and flowed over the wire to form a coating about the entire joint.
Active Voice, Imperative Mood:
The next step is the application of the solder to the joint. This step requires the use of only the heated iron, and a length of the resin-core solder. Take the iron in one hand and the solder in the other, and hold the iron steadily against the wire joint for a moment to heat the wire. Now press the solder lightly against the joint. Let enough of it melt and flow over the wire to form a coating about the entire joint.
The essential differences among these three ways can be expressed as the differences in the following three statements:
1. The solderer holds the iron.
2. The iron is held.
3. Hold the iron.
The effectiveness of the three depends upon several factors.
The advantage of the first way, the active voice and indicative mood, is that it gives the reader the greatest possible assistance in visualizing the action. It is the most dramatic. It comes as close as it is possible to come in words to the actual observation of someone performing the action. The presence of the person carrying out the process is kept steadily in the mind of the reader. This technique is without question a very effective one, and its possibilities should not be overlooked. Probably its best use occurs when the following three conditions prevail:
1. The process being described is one that is performed by one person.
2. The description is intended as general information rather than as a guide for immediate action.
3. The description is directed to readers who know little about the process.
The disadvantage of using the active voice is that it is likely to become monotonous unless handled with considerable skill. The monotony arises from the repetition of such terms as “the solderer,” “the operator,” or whatever the person performing the action is called, even though pronouns can be used to vary the pattern a little.
The advantage of the passive voice is that there is no problem about handling this hypothetical operator. The disadvantage is that the positiveness and aid to visualization of the active voice are missing. For a process performed by one person, or perhaps even a few persons, a combination of the active and the passive voices is possibly a good compromise.
The advantages of the third way, the active voice and the imperative mood, are that it is concise, easy to write, and a reasonably satisfactory guide for immediate action, as long as the process is not too complex. It is however, not really a description at all; it is a set of directions, there is likely to be a slighting of emphasis upon purpose, and a consequent weakness of the report as an explanation of the process. The imperative mood promotes action better than it promotes understanding.
There are numerous possibilities in addition to the three just illustrated. The practical possibilities can be listed as follows: ex.
Active Voice, Indicative Mood
Active Voice, Subjunctive Mood
Passive Voice, Indicative Mood
Passive Voice, Subjunctive Mood
All in all, the three forms (active indicative, passive indicative, and active imperative) are by far the most useful. These remarks refer only to the type of process in which there is a conspicuous operator.
The last part of the description of the process is naturally the conclusion. It is not always necessary to write a formal conclusion. Whether one is desirable depends, of course, on whether it will help the reader. Sometimes the reader needs help in matters like the following:
1. Fixing the chief steps in mind (listing them again might help)
2. Recalling special points about equipment or materials
3. Analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of the process.
4. Noting how this process is related to the other processes, or other work that is being done, or reported on
Analysis of the entire communication situation is necessary to determine whether a conclusion is desirable.
PART II OPERATOR DOES NOT TAKE A CONSPICUOUS PART.
The next is the process in which the human agent is less conspicuous. Such processes may be of great magnitude. They are distinguished by the fact that little emphasis falls directly upon the performance of a human being or beings. How does a transformer works? An answer to this question would be the description of a process; but in that description there would be little need to mention the quality of the performance of the operator.
All that needs to be considered is how the description of a process in which the operator does not take a conspicuous part differs from one in which the operator is important. The essential differences are three:
1. Emphasis is altogether on the action – on what happens – and not on the operator and how the operator performs certain actions.
2. The presentation is usually (not always) in the indicative, the passive indicative, or a combination of the two. The imperative mood never appears.
3. The terms “equipment” and “material” take on a somewhat different meaning and significance.
The three points just mentioned about the process in which the performer is not conspicuous rests on the same principles as in the first process wherein the operator is conspicuous. The main difference is that in the process wherein the operator is inconspicuous the imperative mood is never used obviously, because the emphasis falls on the action and not on the performer, that is why the term “materials and equipments” takes a different meaning because it is now the performer of the action.