What is a procedural text?
A procedural text instructs your audience on how to complete a specific task. Generally this then falls into two categories, how to make something and how to do something.
The purpose of a procedural text is to provide sequenced information or directions so that people can successfully perform activities in safe, efficient and appropriate ways.
Recipes and science experiments are common examples of procedural texts. They use headings and sub-headings they can be structured in the following manner.
Some common forms of procedural texts are.
- Directions - How do I get somewhere? Very specific instructions including location names and titles. Formal language is required and the addition of a map will make your instructions so much easier to understand.
- Instructions - How do I do something? Your language must meet the needs of your audience and you may need to include a diagram if there are complex elements to complete.
- Recipes - How do I cook something? Recipes are a universal text. There is a very clear expectation of the audience so never stray from the essentials. Ingredients, method and a few visuals are essential.
- Rules for games - How do I play this? Be conscious of your audience and write in a style and language they will understand. You are almost guaranteed to require visuals in this style of writing.
- Manuals - How do I operate this? Are there any warnings I need to be aware of before proceeding? Be very specific in your explanation.
- Agendas - What are we doing? When are we doing it? Who is responsible?
It is clear that having a good grasp of this type of genre writing has multiple possible real-life applications for our students. Luckily for such an important genre, procedural texts are one of the easier genres to teach and to successfully produce as a student.
As a comparatively straightforward nonfiction genre, procedural texts in their many forms are often easier to grasp for those students who don't possess a natural affinity for writing than some of the more creative writing genres. The learning of a series of criteria will ensure that even weaker students can produce coherent and successful procedural texts.
PROCEDURAL AND EXPLANATION TEXTS - WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
What causes a Tsunami?
Why are our rain forests disappearing?
The process of making aluminum.
A procedural text is generally instructs how to make or do something such as recipe. Although they appear similar they are very different when compared side by side. Read our guide on how to write an explanation text here.
Given the broad range of forms a procedural text may take, we should not expect that all of the structure and features outlined will apply equally to each type of text. However, the following is some valuable general advice for students to bear in mind when they are considering the language registers of their text.
Procedural texts are one of the few writing genres that regularly use the second person pronoun that addresses the reader in a general way. Often too, this ‘you’ will be implied through the use of imperatives at, or near, the beginning of sentences.
Given the nature of these types of text, the simple present tense is the preferred tense for this type of writing. In this regard, it offers a great opportunity to focus on verb work, especially on imperatives. These command words, or bossy words, such as cut, take, hold are often used to give orders for readers to follow as they move step by step through the process outlined in the text.
This is a nonfiction genre and this should be reflected in the choice of language. There is little to no place here for flights of imagination or figurative turns of phrase. Students should stick to plain, straightforward sentence structures and word choices. They should include detailed factual descriptions of things, where this will enhance the reader’s understanding; shape, size, color, amount should be included where it will improve this understanding.
Sentences should also provide detailed information on the how of performing each of the steps in the process outlined. For example, remove carefully rather than simply remove - when care is necessary for the satisfactory performance make sure it is stated explicitly.
Actions should be outlined sequentially and time connectives can be used to help organize the necessary steps chronologically. For example, use of adverbial time words, such as: first, second, before, then, after. Encourage students to focus on answering the questions of where and when of each of the actions they instruct the reader to follow.
The Four Main Components of a Procedural Text
Let’s take a look at the four main sections that form a procedural text to ensure our students get a broad overview. Then, we can take a closer look at some of the finer details.
1. Goal / Aim
This component addresses the what of the piece. It will refer to what is to be done or made. Very often too this will provide for the title of the text itself. Often this will be stated in the form of a ‘how to’ sentence or the name of the thing to be made itself. With more technical procedural texts, titles may be more generic and standardized, such as simply Operating Manual or User's Guide or in its most basic form, Instructions.
To help your students get a sense of the importance of the title and its relationship with the goal of the text, provide them with a set of procedural texts with the titles removed. In groups, have them brainstorm a variety of titles for the text. When they are finished, reveal the original title of the text and compare with the suggestions made by the group. Soon they will start to see the pattern evolve and this will help them when they come to produce and name their own procedural texts.
Usually done in the form of a list, this component may also be titled Materials, Equipment, Ingredients, Items Needed etc and is pretty self-explanatory. This component comprises a list of things required to complete the procedure outlined in the text. For a recipe, this will obviously include things like ingredients, but may also include things like the appliances and tools required to follow that recipe to completion. For flat-pack furniture, for example, items like a screwdriver, spanner, glue will form this section. Science experiment procedural texts will include apparatus such as Bunsen burners, test tubes, litmus paper etc. Regardless of the specific purpose of the text in question, the resources listed in this section will usually be presented in the order they will be used, as far as this is relevant or possible.
This is the heart of the procedural text as it outlines step-by-step the methodology to follow in the procedure itself. Again, the title of this section of the procedural text may vary depending on the specific type of writing it is. Longer user guides and instructional manuals will have a complex and extensive list of steps to follow that will employ subtitles and subsections to explain micro-processes within the wider procedure being described. Simpler texts, such as recipes, will be much less complex in structure. It is important to encourage students to think very logically about the process they are attempting to outline in their writing. Too often students write themselves into corners as they try to describe complicated procedures while struggling with the technical difficulties of constructing grammatically sound sentences. A good rule of thumb for student writers is to use many short and simple sentences when writing about complex ideas. We will talk more on this aspect when we discuss language features in greater detail.
The conclusion of a procedural text offers guidance to the reader on how they can evaluate the success of the procedure that has been followed. This may take the form of, for example, a description of the completed meal for a recipe text or a description of the assembled furniture in a flat-pack instruction guide. Depending on the type of text in question, often illustrations can be used to reinforce what a successfully followed procedure will look like.
USE HEADINGS TO KEEP YOUR READERS ON TRACK
Recipe - Sub Headings
- Serving Suggestions
Think logically and assume very little..
Science Report - Sub Headings
- Aim / Hypothesis
- Method; Results
The challenge in writing a good procedural text is to deliver your instructions in a logical manner. Ensure your instructions are straight to the point and that you as the author understand what you are trying to achieve. You really want to answer three questions to your audience.
- What will I need to complete this task?
- What do I have to do to complete this task?
- How will I know if I completed the task correctly?
Ensure you also clearly understand your audience, as this will have a big impact upon the language you use.
Illustrations: Pictures Paint a Thousand Words
It can often be difficult to describe actions in words - even for accomplished writers. Casting a quick eye over the sports pages of the newspaper will quickly reveal the importance of the visual in relaying information. You’ll find photographs that convey the commitment and sacrifice of the athlete to their sport far better than most of us are capable of conveying with our meagre language skills. The old newsman’s adage A picture paints a thousand words can be just as true for procedural texts. But photographs aren’t the only visual means of reinforcing the written word in procedural texts. Students can, depending on the nature of the text, employ diagrams, schematics, tables, even cartoons! As with the written text these images will often be ordered sequentially along with the corresponding text and will usually be labelled or accompanied by a caption.
POINTS TO CONSIDER BEFORE "PROCEEDING"
- What is to be done or made? What is the aim or goal? What might your title be?
- What is needed to complete this? Materials, ingredients, tools and so on.
- In what order should things be done? What are the steps in the process? What is the best way to organize and present them?
- What will you add to your written text to help the audience understand better? ( diagrams, illustrations, pictures etc. )
But What to Write About?
One of the things that make procedural texts an accessible writing genre for our students is one of the things that can also make it an uninspiring genre for students to engage in, that is, its factual, straightforward nature. There is a reason why we don’t sit up all night reading user manuals! Entertaining the reader is not the priority of a procedural text and it shows.
So how can we spark the interest of our students strongly enough to carry them through the process of producing a completed text? One way is to get creative with the titles of the procedural texts we ask them to produce. For example, if we are teaching recipe writing your students may be marginally less than thrilled to be tasked with writing a recipe on ‘How to Make Scrambled Eggs’. Why not add a dash of imagination to it? How about, ‘How to Make the Most Disgusting Sandwich in the World’ - now, isn’t that a little more interesting? Sure, no one will actually make the end product - who wants a toenail clipping sandwich garnished in boogers anyways? But, the student will still have to organize their text to the same structures outlined above. They will have to consider the same language features and measure the success, or otherwise, of their writing to the same criteria of a more deadpan procedural text topic.
Another way to ensure student engagement in the writing of procedural texts is to set them a topic that appeals to their own interests specifically. It may be a sporting interest - How to Take a Penalty Kick, a musical one - How to Tune a Guitar, or an arts and crafts based task - How to Make a Paper Airplane. All that is needed is a topic that interests the student and one that they have a certain competency in.
Even if they student chooses something they do not have a competency in, and if it isn’t too complicated, they may wish to take the learning opportunity and research something new with a view to writing a procedural text based on what they learn. This can be great for longer term projects and can also be linked to things they have learned in other subjects at school. Reconstructing their learning in this manner offers a wealth of hidden assessment opportunities for the teacher, providing valuable information to inform future planning and to provide data for recording and reporting.
The Measure of Success
Early in this guide we outlined the four main components of a procedural text, the last of which was the conclusion. The conclusion, we stated, “offers guidance to the reader on how they can evaluate the success of the procedure that has been followed.” Likewise, in teaching our students to produce procedural texts we must offer them a means to assess whether or not they have completed the task successfully themselves. One way they can achieve this is by the use of a Success Criteria checklist. The features students are required to include can be listed in a column to the left and in the right-hand column students can check if they have the feature, or quote an example as evidence from their text itself. For example:
For students to successfully produce their own pieces of genre writing they must internalize the features of that writing genre. To do this they must be exposed to successful and unsuccessful examples of the genre to develop a good critical sense. Peer assessment is a good means of achieving this. Have your students exchange their work with each other and, using a template similar to the example above, they can assess each others work. This is a great method to give your students the practice required to internalize the criteria for successful procedural writing. Varying the number and the complexity of the items on the criteria checklist is a convenient means of catering to different ages and abilities too.
The Proof is in the Pudding
A more practical means of assessing the effectiveness of a procedural text is for students to swap their writing with one another and then carry out the instructions in their classmate’s text to the letter. If they can correctly perform the task exclusively in response to these written instructions, then the writing has been, at least on a purely practical level, successful. Of course, this method does not account for a lot of technical elements that the teacher will still need to check for, but it can be a lot of fun and an opportunity for the students to share their knowledge and interests with one another.
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
As I stated previously in this article, procedural texts are one of the more straightforward writing genres for students to master. That said, however, mastery only comes with focused practice. Though structurally this genre is fairly easy for students to grasp, there are still a lot of language features to consider and stylistic conventions to adhere to. As well as that, there is considerable variety in the complexity of the various types of procedural texts; from simple recipes all the way to complex user manuals. All this takes considerable practice, so it is important that students are offered regular opportunities to hone the broad range of skills required to write well. Some of this learning will take place in discrete sessions dedicated to the writing of procedural texts, but many of the skills will be developed while working on general language skills, whether focused on verbs, tenses, punctuation, reading etc it will be useful to make links to principles in common with the various writing genres as and when they arise.
Information report planning tools
Tips for writing a great procedural report
- Above all else explain what has to be done.
- Keep everything in order.
- List all the items that will be required to complete the task.
- Keep your instructions short, sharp and to the point.
- Use the correct language and terms.
- Find or create some labelled diagrams if possible.
- Use paragraphs effectively. Each new element of your information report should start with a new paragraph.
- Procedural texts are always written in present tense and from a third person perspective.
Click here to view a variety of procedural writing samples
Procedural WRITING CHECKLISTS FOR JUNIOR, MIDDLE AND SENIOR STUDENTS
Click on the images below to download our writing checklists