Engl 3153 Process Narrative Notes

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Scott Hale

Technical Writing

ENGL 3153
Process Narrative Notes
There are two basic methods for narrating a process:

  1. Instructions—a series of steps for the reader to perform

  1. like a recipe, it includes a list of materials and step-by-step instructions

  1. the reader will pick the document up and follow directions

  1. Process narrative—for the interested reader to understand

  1. includes a list of materials, step-by-step description, and rationale

  1. the reader will browse the document to increase his/her understanding of the process

Because instructions are so commonplace, and because you have likely had a good deal of experience with them, we will not study writing instructions. But, we will study writing process narratives for the interested observer.

For portfolio #3, of which this is a part, you must prepare a process narrative for an interested observer who is a layperson (outside of your field).
Basic concerns:

  • The audience are “interested observers” who will not be performing the task. The audience will be interested to see how well you seem to understand the process—particularly the rationale behind it. They are laypeople, well-educated in their own field but uninformed about yours. They are interested in understanding what you do.

  1. These documents often occur in industry.

  1. when implementing a new procedure or piece of equipment, management may need to be kept informed

  1. when presenting a procedure by which data was gathered, customer may need this to assure him/her of data’s validity

  1. when presenting a procedure by which one plans to solve a problem (a proposal), the reader may want to compare proposals and see how complete/thorough the plan is

  1. In order to understand the layperson audience’s needs, remember when you were new to the procedure yourself. What information did you need so that you could understand what you were doing?

  1. Do research if necessary to determine the rationale behind a process you have performed many times—library research, interview an instructor, check manuals, observe carefully.

  1. Be aware of terminology. Use definitions (parenthetical, synonyms, analogies, sentence definitions, complex definitions) where necessary for the lay reader.

  1. Remember that DESCRIPTION focuses on what something looks like—it is largely guided by how things are arranged in space (shape)

  1. Remember that NARRATIVE focuses on the sequence of actions which occur—how things happen in clock-time, chronological time.

  1. Be certain to include the rationale—“instructions” don’t need rationale because the doer doesn’t need to know why something is done, the narrative needs the rationale.

Steps toward Creating a Process Narrative

  1. Understand the Purpose and the Audience

  2. Purpose is to inform or educate the audience.

  • The audience of the first document is a non-specialist, but an educated person.

  • The audience of the second document is an employer, trained in your field

  1. Choose the “right” process for this narrative

  2. Choose one within your field, which you already understand, which will require little or no research.

  3. Choose something neither too simple (using a screwdriver) or too complex (brain surgery)

  4. Carefully move from your own knowledge of the process to creating the narrative:

  5. Make sure you understand the process, that you can do it yourself.

  6. Write out the process for your own understanding

  1. use an outline or a numbered format

  2. just use a series of phrases

  1. Group the steps into major phases (a partitioning statement)

  1. a simple process may be done step-by-step with no grouping

  2. combine simple steps into phases for more complex processes

  3. look for steps that are related, that have something in common (preparation)

  4. grouping a series of steps will aid clarity and decrease the amount of explanation needed

  1. Create a partitioning statement

  1. name each major phase (crate a “mini title”)

  2. place names into a partitioning statement

  3. use the same names as headings in the document

  1. Move from major phases (or steps) into the narrative

  1. after each step/phase, explain why it is done as it is (this is the step which distinguishes a process narrative from simple instructions)

  2. define terms/concepts/hardware

  3. clarify how each step/phase links to the others

D. Determine how visual aids will complement the narrative

  1. use them when the description/narrative becomes complex

  2. when a step/phase is of particular importance

  3. when you want to show the overall process at the outset

  4. when you want to show transition from one phase to the next

E. Look at the outline given in the packet (possible items to include in a process narrative)

  1. think of the purpose of the introduction and conclusion

  2. the format is the same as the hardware description (margins, etc.)

  3. be sure to include page numbers—as in all professional documents

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