The process diagram is in many ways the odd one out in academic task 1 and it requires some different language from the other task types. This lesson shows you some of the skills you need to tackle a process diagram. In it, I talk you through some of the difficulties in describing a process and suggest some basic techniques to help you understand the diagram and write the description. You will also find a sample task and description.
Reading a process diagram – find the beginnings and ends
The first step in learning to write about a process diagram is to see where the process starts and ends. Sometimes it is evident, frequently it is less so. This is important information as it will help structure your writing. The obvious thing to do is to start at the beginning and carry on until you get to the end.
Where is the beginning here? The customer pays by credit card (item 1). Where is the end? The merchant receives his money (item 7). We now know part of the structure of our report.
Understand the different stages of the process
The next point is to try and understand how the process works. Typically, there will be some problem in understanding the diagram: it is not always the case that everything is in a natural order. The key is to stop and think and look. This is a visual task and you need to look at all the visual clues. What you are looking for are normally simple things. It is often a good idea to ask yourself the WH questions.
In the diagram above, we see the following details:
- there are 5 parties involved (the pictures) (WHO)
- there are 7 stages in the process (the numbers) (HOW MANY)
- some of the arrows point in two different directions – this needs to be explained
- item 4 seems to be out of order as it is next to 1
Find a way of organising your description
This is another thinking task. Before you start writing, you want to see if there is some way to organise your report into paragraphs. This is not absolutely essential but it can help the organisation of your writing. In the diagram above, there does seem to be a logical solution, as the process falls in to two parts:
- the customer receives his goods
- the merchant gets his money
The introduction and conclusion
This is a key part of your description. What you need to do here is to give the examiner an overall view of the process. Again, you want to ask yourself questions, such as:
- what happens as a result of this process?
- is there any change involved?
- how many stages are there in this process?
- is there one simple process or are there variations within the process?
The language of the description
The process will normally be an everyday event that everyone is familiar with, you should not need any specialised language. Sometimes, as in this example, you will be given some topic vocabulary. If you are, be careful of two points:
- try to vary the language if you can, but don’t worry too much if you can’t. It may be that the language you are given is the correct topic language and there are no, or few, variations
- don’t copy language incorrectly. If you are given a verb, you may need to change it into a noun
Some of the most important language you need is vocabulary to say in what order things happen. It is important to have some variation here. Some very basic options are:
A key grammatical area is very often the passive. We use this when it is not important who “does” the action. So, if you have a process diagram showing the making of wine, you may choose to write:
the grapes are crushed and their stems are removed
Put simply, we make the passive by taking part of the verb “to be” and adding the 3rd form of the verb.
Sample description with detailed notes
This diagram shows the different stages in the process of making a purchase with a credit card. We can see that it is a complex transaction with no fewer than five different parties involved and there are seven different steps until the merchant receives payment.
The first step is that the customer offers to pay for the goods by credit card. At that point, the merchant has to request for the payment to be authorised by the credit card organisation, which must also request authorisation in turn from the consumer’s bank. Once that authorisation has been received, the merchant can then release the goods to the customer.
The merchant, however, does not receive the money for the transaction until it has paid a fee to the credit card organisation. After that has been paid, the consumer’s issuing bank will transfer the money for the transaction to the merchant’s own bank, which will then credit the merchant’s bank account with the amount of the purchase less the credit card fee.
This diagram shows the different stages in the process of making a purchase with a credit card
Simple sentence to start explaining what the diagram shows
We can see that it is a complex transaction with no fewer than five different parties involved and there are seven different steps until the merchant receives payment.
Complete the introduction by giving an overview of the process (how many steps and how many parties)
paragraphs 1 and 2 sequencing language
The first step…At that point….Once that authorisation has been received…in turn…until… After that has been paid
paragraph 1 organisation and vocabulary.
This follows the authorisation procedure step by step until step 4.
I have not changed the vocabulary much but I have used
- “authorised” and not “authorisation”
- “customer” for “consumer”
- “goods” for “product”
Paragraph 2 organisation and vocabulary
The key to this paragraph is the first sentence. The merchant receiving his money is step 7. However, because it helps me organise the paragraph, I have used it out of order in the first sentence as the main point.
I have used some “new” vocabulary here: