How to Describe a Process in English

Describing how to do something — a process or a sequence of events — is a pretty straightforward process. The main thing you should think of is how to do this process in the right chronological order.

In the following guide, I want to show you what you need to talk about and how to prepare for this.

I use the process of making some tea as an example. Follow the instructions and you should be able to use this as a template for any simple procedure.

Let’s take a look.

 

THE PARTS

What things will you need to carry out this process?

In order to do something — an activity or a process — you are very likely to need some items at hand.

You will need these things to perform the process you want to do. So you need to introduce these items and clearly state what they are.

You might need to explain why you need these things later on, but at first, just say what the things are as a kind of list.

So, for example, let’s say you are making some tea. What items would you need? And if some items need an explanation, you can do that. But first, just say a simple list.

Today, we will learn how to make a pot of tea.

For this we will need the following things:

    • A teapot
    • A kettle
    • Some tea
    • Cups
    • A teaspoon
    • Milk and sugar if needed

Now you can define your terms. This is where you explain what certain items are, and why you need them.

  • A teapot is a kind of container, usually made of china, with a handle and a pouring spout. This is where the tea brews.
  • A kettle is a kind of device that we use for boiling water. We need hot water to make tea. If you don’t have a kettle, you can use a saucepan and boil water in that instead.
  • Of course, we need tea to make tea!
  • We need cups to pour the tea for people to drink. And we might need milk and sugar — some people like to add milk and sugar to their tea. And we might also need a teaspoon to stir the tea.

Think of it like you are talking about a recipe for cooking. Every recipe has two parts — the ingredients (the different foods you need to make the dish) and the process (how to cook the dish).

 

THE PROCESS

When talking about how to do something, you need to think of it in chronological order. Think of all the various steps and what happens in a numbered order.

Try to imagine you are telling a story. There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end.

Talk about all the events in the right chronological order and the listener can understand you and follow what you are saying. Tell it in a different order and people will find it difficult to follow.

In your mind, think about all the steps that need to happen so you can then complete the overall task. Picture in your mind the entire sequence of events and try to number them.

Then describe each of these steps in order.

 

THINK BIG!

Think of the overall big events that need to happen in this process.

Remember how we tell a story and think of the big main parts of the story.

Once we have all the big parts, we can add the smaller parts later. The smaller parts become their own sequence of events in the bigger parts.

So let’s think of the big parts for making tea.

  1. Take the kettle and fill with water, then boil the water.
  2. Put some tea in the teapot and add the boiling water.
  3. Pour the tea in cups.
  4. Serve to people with sugar and milk on the side.

These are the four main big parts of the sequence of events of making tea.

Then we can add the smaller parts…

 

NOW SMALL

Now we can add details to the bigger picture. All we have to do is take each big part and add more detailed, smaller tasks to each one.

1. Take the kettle and fill with water, then boil the water.

  • Be careful how much water you put in the kettle. Don’t put too much water in because this is dangerous if the kettle is electric.
  • If you have filtered water, then use this. It will give the tea a much better taste.
  • Some teas need boiling water, while others like green tea should not use boiling water. Check what the best temperature is for your type of tea. If your kettle is advanced enough, you can heat the water to the right temperature you need.

 

2. Put some tea in the teapot and add the boiling water

  • Use some of the hot water to clean out the pot thoroughly. Get rid of all the dregs of old tea.
  • Pour some hot water in the pot and leave to stand for a while — this heats the pot and is good for brewing the tea.
  • Put some tea into the pot. Be careful how much tea you put in the pot — too little and it will taste weak, too much and it will be too strong. You need to adjust to your required taste.
  • Add boiling water into the pot. Place the lid back on the teapot, and leave to stand for three minutes.

 

3. Pour the tea in cups

  • Make sure the cups are clean.
  • Pour some boiling hot water into the cups, and allow to stand for a short time. Then throw out. This will keep the tea hot in the cups.

 

4. Serve to people with sugar and milk on the side

  • Use a tray for convenience to serve the teapot, cups, milk, sugar and a spoon.
  • Place all the items on the table in front of the people.
  • Use placemats for the teapot and the cups. This is to prevent any heat damage to the table surface.

 

You can see by being clear about what the bigger parts are, it is easier to think about what the smaller steps are.

 

WORDS TO DESCRIBE PROCESS

Words to use when talking about a sequence of events.

You can use the following words to help you describe the process.

  • First
  • Then
  • And then
  • After that
  • Once you have done that then…
  • After
  • Before
  • First, Second Third…
  • Next
  • Later
  • Finally
  • Last
  • In the end

 

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

It’s probably a good idea to look at a clear example and see how all of this is put together.

HOW TO MAKE A CUP OF TEA

  1. First, take some filtered water to use to make your tea.
  2. Then fill the kettle with the filtered water.
  3. And then boil the water.
  4. After that, use some of the boiling water to clean out the teapot of old tea dregs.
  5. Next, pour some more hot water inside to heat the teapot.
  6. Once you have done that, then pour the hot water out and place some tea inside the pot.
  7. After that, pour some boiling water on to the tea.
  8. Then leave to stand for three minutes.
  9. When you have done that, you need to clean the cups with boiling water.
  10. After that, pour some boiling water into the cups to heat them.
  11. Then pour out the hot water.
  12. Next, place the teapot, the cups, the milk and sugar along with a teaspoon onto a tray.
  13. Then take the tray to your guest.
  14. After that, put some placemats on the table.
  15. And then place the teapot and cups onto the placemats.
  16. Finally, allow your guests to help themselves to the tea.

 

CONCLUSION

You might have to describe a process, or how to do something, for work or as part of a school assignment.

The trick is to think logically and get all the steps in the correct chronological order.

Once you have done that, then everything is simple. Just a case of using the words to describe the process.

A good way of practising is to read instruction manuals or how-to guides on wikihow — this site is full of great examples on how to do different things.

Read some of these for research and you can find the relevant vocabulary for your needs.

Good luck and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “How to Describe a Process in English”

  1. I love processes and the guide you offer is excellent! It helps students think about steps in a time sequence and I’ve also found that a process is one of the best ways to get students to learn new vocabulary. Invariably they will find they need to look up words they didn’t know to describe the process.

    1. Thank you Leona! Yes, I agree, it is definitely a good way to broaden the student’s vocabulary. Actually that could be a vocabulary learning technique all of its own. 🙂

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