Describing a process is not as difficult as it may seem.
Some things which make describing a process particularly ‘stress free’ are:
- you can use Present Simple throughout – you don’t need to worry about tenses
- there are clear stages – you don’t need to worry about analyzing numbers and percentages etc
- the diagram usually provides the vocabulary that you need
But you need to be careful about a few things, as I will outline below.
Describing a process: checklist
- If possible, try not to use too many of the words from the Task – try to paraphrase them or use appropriate synonyms wherever possible
- If you’re not sure whether your synonym is correct, just use the word from the text.
- Use the Passive tense (see tips below)
- Remember that you don’t always need the Passive tense (‘the turbine produces hot gases’)
- Review when to use uncountable and countable nouns (‘the coal IS carried’ or ‘the bags ARE carried’)
- Use a range of linking words – try not to over-use ‘After that…’
Linking words for describing a process
Look at the model for more suggestions of linking words:
- First of all
- After that
- At the next stage,
- Following that,
You can also link with relative pronouns e.g. where it is burned, to which oxygen is added.
Always remember the OVERALL statement – find something to comment on that sums up the process e.g. it’s a complex process involving a number of stages, or it’s divided into two main stages.
Click here for an updated version of this lesson: How To Describe a Process in 5 Easy Steps
How to use Passive verbs for a process
Look at the passive verbs that I’ve adapted from the model answer:
- The coal is mined/taken out of the ground.
- The coal is hauled to the surface.
- The coal is carried along a conveyor belt to a power plant.
- The coal is burned in a large furnace.
- Oxygen is pumped into the furnace.
- Harmful substances are removed.
- The gas is used to drive a gas turbine
- Exhaust gases are piped to a generator.
- The heat is converted into steam.
- Flue gases are given off.
What do you notice about Passive verb constructions?
There are 3 parts and you have to make 3 decisions.
Decision 1: Singular or Plural?
Coal is mined.
[Thing] + be + 3rd form.
What happens if there are many things?
Gases are piped.
Gases are plural, so ‘is’ changes to ‘are’.
Decision 2: Past, Present or Future?
The process happens over and over again, on a regular basis. So it’s a habit. Choose the Present Tense of ‘be’ – either ‘is’ or ‘are’.
Decision 3: 3rd form – regular or irregular?
Look at the verbs we used in the sentences above:
mined, pumped, hauled, carried, burned, pumped removed, used, piped, converted
These verbs just need ‘ed’ at the end.
taken out, given off
These are irregular verbs, so you need to learn them.
An easier way to remember Passives.
Some teachers teach Passives as adjectives. How?
Think about how adjectives work e.g. ‘cold’
- I’m cold
- They’re cold
- It was cold
- We were cold
- It will be cold.
Now thing about an adjective ending in ‘ed’.
- I’m tired.
- They’re tired.
- He was tired.
- We were tired.
- You’ll be tired.
This is exactly how the Passive works (in fact, all adjectives ending in ‘ed’ are passive verbs, because you’re tired BY something).
You can see how this works with the passive here:
- It’s mined.
- They’re mined.
- It was mined.
- They were mined.
- It’ll be mined.
So you just need to change the ‘be’ verb according to number and tense, and the 3rd form always stays the same.
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