Describing a process


Using the passive voice

  • first the dish is prepared
  • then the stove is turned on
  • after this the target is set
  • the computer is configured to

Using the active imperative voice

When you use the active voice the verb comes first, e.g.

  • Put the pen on the table.
  • Open the book at page 132
  • Finish the exercise in half an hour.
  • Give your essay to the teacher

Note: The imperative form is made by using the bare infinitive of the verb (the infinitive without ‘to’). Here are some examples The imperatives are in bold. Note that in these examples there are no grammatical subjects:

  • Use a minium of four eggs per omelette ….”
  • Heat the oil, not too much heat, just heat it … “
  • Put just one tablespoon of water, not milk, in with the egg …”
  • Mix the eggs up, just lightly beat them with a fork … “
  • Pour that into the hot pan … “

It is possible to use subjects when describing a process like this. The subject most commonly used is ‘you’. For example:

  • You use a minimum of four eggs …
  • You heat the oil …
  • You put one tablespoon of water ….
  • The officer then takes a statement
  • One must be careful not to get involved.

Using sequence words

When giving a series of instructions it’s more natural in speech and writing to join the different instructions together with linking words.

  • First, put the pen on the table
  • Second, open the book at page 132
  • Then, finish the exercise in half an hour
  • Next, give your essay to the teacher
  • After that, take a break.
  • Then, return to the classroom
  • Finally, go home!
  • lightly beat the eggs then pour them into the pan
  • turn the heat down and then use your fork
  • And then just put a knife underneath and flip the omelette over …

Other ways of describing a process using sequence words are:

  • firstly, secondly thirdly…
  • the first step/stage is, then, 

Ask yourself the following questions

  • What’s happening in each step of the process?
  • Which steps can be grouped into a stage? ?
  • How is the machine or device used?

The Manufacture of Bricks

Start with an introduction that states the aim. One sentence is enough: ”This report illustrates how bricks are produced.”

The second paragraph is the overview: a summary of the information.  The overview for a process is fairly simple, so it can be stated in one sentence, for example, “Overall, there are two main stages in the manufacture of bricks.”.

A process description usually contains one paragraph per stage. Start each paragraph with a brief statement of what the stage aims to do. For example: “In the first stage, raw bricks are prepared.”

The rest of the paragraph details each step in that stage. Present the steps in sequence, and use appropriate linking words (“next”, “then”, etc.) and verb tenses (often present simple passive).

A report on how an object works also groups the various actions involved in using the object into several detail paragraphs.

In the first stage, raw bricks are prepared. Initially, the raw material – clay – is dug from the soil by a digger. Then, lumps of clay are placed on a metal grid and broken into smaller pieces, which fall through on to a roller. They are later mixed with sand and water to make a uniform mixture. Brick-shaped pieces are subsequently formed either by using a mould or by cutting the clay mix with a wire cutter.

In the second stage, the raw bricks are hardened. Hundreds of fresh bricks are stacked in a drying oven and left for one or two days. After that, the dried bricks are heated in a kiln, first to a moderate temperature (200 to 980C), and then to a high temperature (870 to 1,300C). They are finally transferred to a chamber to cool and harden slowly over two to three days before being transported to customers.

Examples of describing a process:

  • public procurement in Sweden
  • being longterm sicklisted


Easier ones to start with:

  • making a cup of tea
  • renting a video
  • cooking your favourite dish

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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