How to Write a Process Essay in MLA Formatting

Process essays explain directional or operational tasks.
... Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

A process essay explains how to perform a particular task (directional) or how something functions (operational). Directional processes are performed in a series of sequential steps, such as changing a flat tire. The phases or steps of an operational process can be understood, but not performed, as in the case of natural procedures like photosynthesis. After determining the type of process to write, you must format your paper according to Modern Language Association (MLA) guidelines.

1 Topics and Types

Process essay topics range in difficulty from the simple to the sophisticated -- how to make a grilled cheese sandwich or how a tornado forms before sweeping the countryside. Most process topics center on everyday tasks, workplace duties, hobbies or food preparation. Your topic will determine which type of process to write, either directional or operational. Confer with your instructor about operational processes before drafting this type of essay, since it might involve adding research citations.

2 Essay Outline

An informal outline ensures that every step in the process is clearly delineated and organized chronologically from beginning to end. Outline the steps of the process as a list or bullet points before writing anything. Describe each step as if the reader knows nothing about your topic, but needs to understand the intricacies of the process. You should perform the steps then jot them down in your outline to separate tips from actual task activities.

3 Writing Style

Process essays feature imperative or command statements with an understood “you.” This reduces the redundancy and frequency of including the pronoun “you” throughout the essay. Instead of “First, you scoop vanilla ice cream into a bowl” write, “First, scoop vanilla ice cream into a bowl.” The Capital Community College "Guide to Grammar and Writing" suggests including the transition words “first” and “second” at the beginning of the essay, but avoiding “thirdly” or “fourthly” to number all subsequent steps.


Basic MLA format includes the following general formatting, according to Purdue OWL: one inch margins on all sides, double-spacing, Times New Roman 12 point font; a top right header on every page with your last name and the page number. The top left heading that only appears on the first page includes your full name, instructor’s name, course title and submission date, which is then followed by the title of the essay centered above the first paragraph.

Ashan R. Hampton is an instructor, multimedia specialist, author and commercial radio broadcaster/producer. She has earned certificates in information technology multimedia and instructional design. Hampton also holds an M.A. in English and is completing a doctorate in higher education administration.