Friday, November 28, 2014

Notes on the Process Analysis Method

Process analysis explains a sequence of actions with a specified result (the process) by dividing it into its component steps (the analysis). The purpose of process analysis is to explain, but sometimes a parallel purpose is to prove something about the process or evaluate it.

Process analyses generally fall into one of two types:
  •  In a directive process analysis, you tell how to do or make something. You outline the steps in the process completely so that the reader who follows them can achieve the specified result. Generally, you address the reader directly, using the second-person you or the imperative mood of verbs (“Add one egg yolk and stir vigorously.”).
  •  In an explanatory process analysis, you provide the information necessary for readers to understand the process, but more to satisfy their curiosity that to teach them how to perform it. You may address the reader directly, but the third-person he, she, it, and they are more common.
Whether directive or explanatory, process analysis usually follows a chronological sequence. Most processes can be divided into phases or stages, and these in turn can be divided into steps. Following a chronological order, you cover the stages in sequence and, within each stage, cover the steps in sequence.    

Transitional expressions that signal time and place—such as after five minutes, meanwhile, to the left, and below—can be invaluable in process analysis.

To find your subject, examine your interests or hobbies or think of a processes you want to research in order to understand them better. Explore the subject by listing chronologically all the necessary stages and steps.

While exploring the subject, decide on the point of your analysis and express it in a thesis statement. For instance:

Building a table is a three-stage process of cutting, assembling, and finishing.

You can increase your readers’ interest in the process by also conveying your reason for writing about it:

Changing a tire does not require a mechanic’s skill or strength; on the other contrary, a ten-year-old child can do it.

You might show how the process demonstrates a more general principle.

The process of getting a bill through congress illustrates the majority rule at work.

Or you might assert that a process is inefficient or unfair:

The overly complicated registration procedure forces students to waste two days each semester standing in line.

Remember your readers while you are generating ideas and formulating your thesis. Consider how much background information is needed, where specialized terms must be defined, and where examples must be given.

Many successful process analyses begin with an overview of the process to which readers can relate each step. In such an introduction you can lead up to your thesis sentence by specifying when or where the process occurs, why it is useful and interesting or controversial, what its result is, and the like.

After the introduction, you should present the stages distinctly, perhaps one or two paragraphs for each, and usually in chronological order. Within each stage, also chronologically, you then then cover the necessary steps.

A process analysis may simply end with the result. But you might conclude with a summary of the major stages, with a comment on the significance or usefulness of the process, or with a recommendation for changing a process you have criticized.

Drafting a process analysis is a good occasion to practice a straightforward, concise writing style, for clarity is more important than originality of expression. Stick to plain language and uncomplicated sentences.

When you’ve finished your draft, ask a friend to read it. If you have explained a process, he or should be able to understand it. Then examine the draft yourself against the following questions:
  • Have you adhered to a chronological sequence?
  • Have you included all necessary steps and omitted unnecessary digressions?
  • Have you accurately gauged your readers’ need for information?
  • Have you shown readers how each step fits into the whole process and relates to the other steps?
  • Have you used plenty of informative transitions?
While drafting a directive process analysis, telling readers how to do something, you may start off with subjects or verbs in one form and then shift to another form because the original choice felt awkward. These shifts occur most often with the subjects a person or one:

Inconsistent  To keep the car from rolling while changing the tire, one should first set the car’s emergency brakes. Then one should block the three tires with objects like rocks or chunks of wood. Before raising the car, you should loosen the bolts of the wheel.

To repair inconsistency here, you could stick with one for the subject (one should loosen), but that usually sounds stiff. It is better to revise the earlier subjects to be you.

Consistent  To keep the car from rolling while changing while changing the tire,  you should set the car’s emergency brake. Then you should block the three other tires with objects like rocks or chunks of wood. Before raising the car, you should loosen the bolts of the wheel.             

Sometimes, writers try to avoid one or a person or even you with passive verbs that don’t require actors:

Inconsistent  To keep the car from rolling while changing the tire, you should first set the car’s emergency brake. Then the other tires should be blocked with objects like rocks or chunks of wood.   

But the passive is wordy and potentially confusing, especially when directions should be making it clear who does what.

One solution to problem of inconsistent subjects and passive verbs is to sue the imperative, or commanding, forms of verbs, in which you is understood as the subject:

Consistent  To keep the car from rolling while changing the tire, first set the car emergency brake. Then block the three other tires with objects or chunks of wood. 

Nora Ephron (born 1941) is a screenwriter, director, essayist, and novelist known for her sharp wit and strong female characters. This paragraph comes from “Revision and Life,” an essay first published in 1986 in the New York Times Book Review. (When she wrote this paragraph, Ephron composed on a typewriter. Even if she now uses a computer for writing, as seems likely, her process may well remain much the same.)

I learned as a journalist to revise on deadline. I learned to write an article a paragraph at a time—and to run it in a paragraph at a time—and I arrived at the kind of writing and revising I do, which is basically a kind of typing and retyping. I am a great believer in this technique for the simple reason that I type faster than the wind. What I generally do is to start an article and get as far as I can—sometimes no farther than a sentence or two—before running out of steam, ripping the piece of paper from the typewriter and starting all over again. I type over and over until I have got the beginning of the piece to the point where I am happy with it. I then am ready to plunge into the body of the article itself. This plunge usually requires something known as a transition. I approach a transition by completely retyping the opening of the article leading up to it in the hope that the ferocious speed of my typing will somehow catapult me into the next section of the piece. This does not work—what in fact catapults me into the next section is a concrete thought about what the next section ought to be about—but until I have the thought the typing keeps me busy, and keeps me from feeling something known as blocked.   
Explanatory process analysis: tells how the author drafts and revises

Transitions (underlined) signal sequence

Process divided into steps

Details of the last step

Goal of process

Notes on Comparison and Contrast Method

Comparison shows the similarities between two or more subjects while contrast shows the differences between subjects.

Comparison and contrast usually work together because any subjects that warrant side-by-side examination usually resemble each other.

You’ll generally write a comparison for one of two purposes:
To explain the similarities and differences between subjects so as to make either or both of them clear.
To evaluate subjects so as to establish their advantages and disadvantages, strengths, and weaknesses.

In writing a comparison, you not only select subjects from the same class but also, using division or analysis, identify the features shared by subjects. These points of comparison are the attributes of the class and thus of the subjects within the class.

In an effective comparison a thesis or controlling idea governs the choice of class, points of comparison, and specific similarities and differences, while also making the comparison worthwhile for the reader. The thesis of an evaluative comparison coincides with the writer’s purpose of supporting a preference for one subject over another:

THESIS SENTENCE (EVALUATION): The two diets result in similarly rapid weight loss, but Harris’s requires much more self-discipline and nutritionally much riskier than Marconi’s.

In an explanatory comparison, the thesis goes beyond the obvious and begins to identify the points of comparison.

TENTATIVE THESIS SENTENCE (EXPLANATION): Rugby and American football are the same in some respects and different others.

REVISED THESIS SENTENCE (EXPLANATION): Though rugby requires less strength and more stamina than American football, the two games are very much alike in their rules and strategies.

 The examples suggest other decisions you must make when writing a comparison:

  • Should the subjects be treated in equal detail, or should one be emphasized over the others? Give the subjects equal emphasis when they are equally familiar or are being evaluated. Stress one subject over the others when it is less familiar.
  • Should the essay focus on similarities or differences, or both? Generally, stress them equally when all points of comparison are equally familiar or important. Stress the differences between subjects usually considered similar or the similarities between subjects usually considered different.

You have two options for arranging a comparison:

  • Subject-by-subject in which you group the points of comparison under each subject so that the subjects so that the subjects are covered one at a time.
  • Point-by-point, in which you group the subjects under each point of comparison so that the points are covered one at a time.

Harris’s diet
     Speed of weight loss
     Required self-discipline
     Nutritional risk
Marconi’s diet
    Speed of weight loss
    Required self-discipline
    Nutritional risk
Speed of weight loss
     Harris’s diet
     Marconi’s diet
Required self-discipline
     Harris’s diet
     Marconi’s diet
Nutritional risk
     Harris’s diet
     Marconi’s diet

Whenever you observe similarities or differences between two or more members of the same general class—activities, people, ideas, things, places—you have a possible subject for comparison and contrast.

While shaping your ideas, you should begin formulating your controlling idea,your thesis. The thesis should reflect your answers to these questions:

  • Do the ideas suggest an explanatory or evaluative comparison?
  • If the explanatory, what point will the comparison make so that it does not merely recite the obvious?
  • If evaluative, what preference or recommendation will you express?
  • Will you emphasize both subjects equally or stress on over the other?
  • Will you emphasize differences or similarities, or both?

As you gain increasing control over your material, consider also the needs of your readers?
Do they know your subjects well, or should you take special care to explain one or both of them?
Will your readers be equally interested in similarities and differences, or will they find one more enlightening than the other?
If your essay is evaluative, are your readers likely to be biased against your preference? If so, you will need to support your case with plenty of specific reasons.

An effective introduction to a comparison essay often provides some context for readers—the situation that prompts the comparison or the need for the comparison. Placing your thesis sentence in the introduction also informs readers of your purpose and point.

For the body of the essay, choose the arrangement that will present your material most clearly and effectively. Remember that the subject-by subject arrangement suits brief essays comparing dominant impressions of subjects, whereas the point-by-point arrangement suits longer essays requiring emphasis on the individual points of comparison.

The conclusion to a comparison essay can help readers see the whole picture: the chief similarities and differences between two subjects compared in alternating arrangement. In addition, you may want to comment on the significance of your comparison, advise readers on how they can sue the information you have provided, or recommend a specific course of action for them to follow.

Drafting your essay gives you the chance to spell out your comparison so that it supports your thesis, or if your thesis is still tentative, to find your idea by writing into it.

Revising and Editing
When you are revising and editing your draft, use the following questions to be certain your essay meets the principal requirements of the comparative method.

Are your subjects drawn from the same class?
Does your essay have a clear purpose and say something about the subject?
Do you apply all points of comparison to both subjects?
Does the pattern of comparison suit readers’ needs and the complexity of the material?

To help readers keep your comparison straight, you can rely on the use of transitions and repetition or restatement:
  • Some transitions indicate that you are shifting between subjects, either finding resemblances between them (also, like, likewise, similarly) or finding differences (but, however, in contrast, instead, unlike, whereas, yet). Other transitions indicate that you are moving on to a new point (in addition, also, furthermore, moreover).
Traditional public schools depend for financing, of course, on tax receipts and on other public money like bonds, and as a result they generally open enrolment to all students without regard to background, skills, or special needs. Magnet schools are similarly funded by public schools. But they often require prospective students to pass a test or the hurdle for admission. In addition, whereas traditional public schools usually offer a general curriculum, magnet schools often focus on a specialized program emphasizing an area of knowledge or competence, such as science or technology or performing arts.
  • Repetition or restatement of labels for your subjects or for your points of comparison makes clear the topic of each sentence. In the passage, the repetitions of traditional public schools and magnet schools and the substitution of they for each clarify the subjects of comparison. The restatements of financing/public money/funded, enrolment/admission, and curriculum/program clarify the points of comparison. 
Analyzing Comparison and Contrast in a Paragraph
Suzanne Britt (born 1946) has written for many newspapers and magazines, and she has also published several collections of essays. The following paragraphs comes from “That Lean and Hungry Look,” first published in 1978 in the “My Turn” column of Newsweek on Campus.

Some people say the business about the jolly fat person is a myth, that all of us chubbies are neurotic, sick, sad people. I disagree. Fat people may not be chortling all day long, but they’re a hell of a lot nicer than the wizened and shrivelled. Thin people turn surly, mean, and hard at a young age because they never learn the value of a hot-fudge sundae for easing tension. Thin people don’t like gooey soft things because they themselves are neither gooey nor soft. They are crunchy and dull, like carrots. They go straight to the heart of the matter while fat people let things stay all blurry and hazy and vague, the way things actually are. Thin people want to face the truth. Fat people know there is no truth. One of my thin friends is always staring at complex, unsolvable problems and saying, “The key thing is . . .” Fat people never say that. They know there isn’t such thing as the key thing about anything.                                                              
Point-by-point comparison

1.    Personality

2.    Food preferences (related to personality)

3.   Outlook

Comparison clarified by transitions (underlined once) and repetition and restatement (underlined twice)


Aaron, Jane E. The Compact Reader: Short Essays by Method and Theme. 7th Ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.

Notes on Classification Method

We classify when we sort things into groups. Because it creates order, classification helps us make sense of our physical and mental experience.
Writers classify to explain a pattern in a subject that might not have been noticed before.

Using the Method
Writers classify primarily to explain a pattern in a subject that might not have been noticed before.
Writer also classify to persuade readers that one group is superior.

Classification is a three-step process:
  • Separate things into their elements, using the method of division or analysis
  • Isolate the similarities among the elements
  • Group or classify the things based on those similarities, matching like with like.
The number of groups in a classification scheme depends entirely on the basis for establishing the classes in the first place. There are two systems:
  • In a complex classification, each individual fits firmly into one class because of at least one distinguishing feature shared with all members of that class but with any members of any other classes.
  • In a binary or two-part classification, two classes are in opposition to each other.
Sorting demands a principle of classification that determines the groups by distinguishing them.

Your choice of a principle depends on your interest.

Although you may emphasize one class over the others, the classification itself must be complete and consistent.

Developing an Essay by Classification
Be sure that your general subject forms a class in its own right—that its members share at least one important quality.

Your principle of classification may suggest a thesis sentence, but be sure the sentence also conveys a reason for the classification so that the essay does not become a dull list of categories.

TENTATIVE THESIS SENTENCE    Political fund-raising appeals are delivered in six ways.

REVISED THESIS SENTENCE        Of the six ways to deliver political fund-raising appeals, the three rely on personal contact are generally the most effective.

Be sure to consider your readers’ needs. The principle of classification for a familiar subject need little justification. On the other hand, an unfamiliar subject might require considerable care in explaining the principle of classification.

The introduction to a classification essay should make clear why the classification is worthwhile: what situation prompted the essay? What do readers already know about the subject? What use might they make of the information you will provide?

Do state your principle in a thesis sentence, so that readers know where you’re taking them.
In the body of the essay the classes may be arranged in order of decreasing familiarity or increasing importance or size.

Among other uses, the conclusion might summarize the classes, comment on the significance of one particular class in relation to the whole, or point out a new understanding of the whole subject gained from the classification.

For the first draft of your classification, your goal will be to establish your scheme: spelling out the purpose and principle of classification and defining the groups so that they are complete and consistent, covering the subject without mixing principles or overlapping.

 Revising and Editing
The following questions can help you revise and edit your classification:
  • Will readers see the purpose of your classification?
  • Is your classification complete?
  • Is your classification consistent?
A crucial aim of revising a classification is to make sure each group is clear: what’s counted in, what’s counted out, and why. You’ll provide the examples and other details that make the groups clear as you develop the paragraphs devoted to each group.
The second group, evangelists, does not condemn smokers but encourages, them to quit. Evangelists think quitting is easy, and they preach this message, often earning the resentment of potential converts.

Contrast the given paragraph with the actual paragraph written by Franklin E. Zimring in his essay, “Confessions of a Former Smoker”:

By contrast, the antismoking evangelist does not condemn smokers. Unlike the zealot, he regards smoking as an easily curable condition, as a social disease, and not a sin. The evangelist spends an enormous amount of time seeking and preaching to the unconverted. He argues that kicking the habit is not that difficult. After all, he did it; moreover, as he describes it, the benefits of quitting are beyond measure and the disadvantages are nil.
The hallmark of the evangelists is his insistence that he never misses tobacco. Though he is less hostile to smokers than the zealot, he is resented more. Friends and loved ones who have been the targets of his preachments frequently greet the resumption of smoking by the evangelist as an occasion for unmitigated glee.

In Zimring’s paragraph, he contrasts evangelists with zealots; he provides specific examples of his message and of others’ reaction to them. These additional details make the group distinct from other groups and clear in itself.

Analyzing Classification in A Paragraph
Daniel Goleman (born 1940) is a psychologist who consults and writes on “emotional intelligence.” He previously wrote for the New York Times, and the following paragraph comes from a 1992 Times a column headlined “As Addiction Medicine Gains, Experts Debate What It Should Cover.”

     Dr. Milkman, in a theory often cited by those who are stretching the boundaries of addiction, proposed in the mid-1980s that there are three kinds of addiction, each marked by the change they produce in emotional states. The first involves substances or activities that are calming, including alcohol, tranquilizers, overeating, and even watching television. The second involves becoming energized, whether by cocaine and amphetamines, gambling, sexual activity, and even watching television. The second involves becoming energized whether by cocaine and amphetamines, gambling, sexual activity, or high-risk sports like parachute-jumping. The third kind of addiction is to fantasy, whether induced by psychedelic drugs or, for example, by sexual thoughts.  
Principle of classification (topic sentence underlined): change produced in emotional states

1.     Calming Addiction

2.     Energizing Addiction

3.  Fantasy-production addiction


Aaron, Jane E. The Compact Reader : Short Essays by Method and Theme. 7th Ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.