One of the easiest forms of expository writing for most students to tackle is the how-to essay.  Who doesn’t know how to do something?  And if we already know how to do it, we can surely tell someone else how to do it — no heavy research, no worrying about condensing several sources down into something readable but non-plagiarized.  In this case, these are our own thoughts from the beginning, and we are simply sharing them with others.

All essays follow a basic similar form:

  • Introduction or thesis
  • Main ideas, facts, and examples
    • Supporting ideas, facts, and examples
  • Conclusion

For the how-to essay (often referred to as a process analysis essay), the main and supporting ideas become the steps in a process.

Easy-to-follow suggestions to prepare a how-to essay.

Determine what you want to explain how to do.  Obviously, the more familiar you are with your subject, the easier the essay will be to write.  Pick something you truly enjoy.

Determine your audience.  Who will be likely to follow your how-to instructions?  What age group?  What background will they already have?  If you are not sure, you’ll need to back up to the beginning and provide a foundation for the reader to move forward from.  For example, if you are explaining how a horse rider jumps a fence to someone who has never seen a horse, you’ll have to explain the unusual terms as you go forward.

Determine what is needed.  What will the reader need to be able to follow your instructions?  Make a list of items, things handy to have on hand, and any background information they will need.

Determine the steps that are involved.  List each step.  Make sure the steps are listed in the correct order.

Start writing.  You’ll want your introductory paragraph to sum up the process that is to follow. Some of the questions you might answer in the introduction are:

  • Why is it an interest for you?
  • How did you learn how to do it?
  • Why would you like to share this interest or process with others?
  • Why might others find your information helpful?

Next, you’ll want to explain what will be needed to follow the process.   Many times this information can be included in the introductory paragraph.

Once you have a satisfactory introductory paragraph, it is time to tackle that list of steps you made above.  You’ll want to write complete, interesting sentences explaining how to accomplish each step.  For clarity, many times the reader will be interested in why you are performing a certain step. Point out any frequent misconceptions or common errors associated with any particular step.

Finally, you will want to sum up with a concluding paragraph that simply restates the entire process in an original way.

  • Peruse instruction manuals or a how-to book to become familiar with the process of writing instructions.
  • Practice following directions.  What type of directions are easiest to follow?  What type of directions do you find difficult to follow?  Why?
  • When you have your list of step-by-step instructions written down, try following them yourself!  This will help you see any additions or modifications that may need to be made.
  • Write an outline before beginning to write the how-to essay.
  • Don’t worry about getting the essay right the first time.  Sometimes it is best to just write, and then go back and “make it pretty” afterwards!
  • Become familiar with transition words that can link the steps together:  first, second, next, then, now, when, finally, before, after, etc.
  • Consider including an occasional anecdote or illustrative example where it may naturally fit in.

Additional Resources

The Process Essay
Excellent pointers from the Guide To Grammar and Writing, including an example how-to essay.

Flow Chart
Graphic organizer helpful for laying out the steps in the correct order.  If you need more room, print two and tape them together.

Step-By-Step Chart
Another option that includes room for noting additional details.

Enjoy the complete series:
14 Forms of Writing for the Older Student: Complete Series
14 Forms of Writing for the Older Student

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