Process Writing: IKEA Instructions

Process writing can be broken down into “Instruction” and “Process Explanation.” In this post, I explain process writing and how it is used. Then, I present an activity that involves writing out those picture-based IKEA instructions.

Instructions enable readers to perform a process. Instructions use the imperative form of verbs (also known as the command form); this form implies “you”: “(You) disconnect the system, and (you) check the electrical source.” This type of writing is found in the products you buy, showing you how to put something together or use it.

Process explanation helps the reader understand how something is carried out. Sometimes, you cannot even do the process that is explained in this type of writing.  For example, the explanation of ‘How a black hole is formed’ is not meant for the reader to follow–it’s not a set of instructions for making your own black hole! This type of writing is common in science when processes are explained.

IKEA instructions are an example of process writing–but there are no words! In order to easily carry their products in many countries, the company includes instructions in picture format.

For this activity, the student must first go to the IKEA site and find a product (a bed, for example). Then, the student gets the instructions for the assembly of the product. Those instructions the student will need are in the individual product details under “Assembly & documents.”

The task is to then put the picture instructions into words. This can be a step-by-step list of instructions that are numbered:

1. Take out all the materials from the box.

2. Open the plastic bag with screws 4578.

3. Connect part 3267 with part 1490 using the screws.

4. ………

5. ……….

Since there aren’t words in the IKEA instructions, it will be a challenge! To add a twist, the student should avoid saying what the product is. When the instructions are complete, they can be presented to a parent, teacher, or class; then, the audience will need to guess what the product is based on the instructions.

Having complete instruction writing, another layer could be added next. The students challenge is to take those instructions and turn them into process explanation. In this case, the first person (I, me, we, us) and the second person (you, your) will not be used. Rather the focus goes from the person doing the action to the action being done. Heres’ an example:

To begin, all material are removed from the box. Then, the plastic bag with screws 4578 is opened. Next, part 3267 is connected with part 1490 using the screws. Once that is completed…


It is important to use transition words and phrases when putting together the process explanation. Here are some examples: first, next, then, later, once that it is completed, finally.

For more ideas and guidance with writing projects, please contact Lux Writing Center. With Lux Writing Center, students receive daily personalized writing instruction online.

Writing in nature

On a clear day last month, I took a group of young writers outside. With paper and pen in hand, we spread out to write—one went into a small wooded area, a few sat in the grass, another climbed up a large oak, and a couple of them sat at tables under trees. They were tasked to simply describe something they saw. Later, we reconvened to share descriptions of ants, trees, Spanish moss, and cold air. These descriptions later evolved into wonderful creative writings.

The activity proved to be fruitful, and I attribute this to the depth and beauty the natural world offers us. When we, our students, or our children are facing writer’s block, boredom with the usual prompts, or simallgau-63427_1280-1ply a tiredness of being at the desk, outside is a good place to be.

Connecting our lives to the natural world around us is not a new concept. It is for good reason that we plant trees in street medians, spend Saturday afternoons at parks, stare out at the vastness of the ocean, and can’t help but be overwhelmed when we look up at a clear starry night.

It’s an ancient connection that gets to our core of being. I see this connection in the readings I teach—creation stories, the Psalms, Indian animal fables, Jesus’ parables, and poetry from all over the world.

Thomas Merton, a writer and monk who lived in a hermitage in the woods of Kentucky, believed that creation must be experienced and observed. He began many of his journal entries by writing what he was observing in the forest around him. He wrote descriptions
like this one:

Mists of damp heat rise up out of the fields around the sleeping abbey.  The whole valley is flooded with moonlight and I count the southern hills, and almost number the trees of the forest to the north.  Now the huge chorus of living beings rise up out of the world beneath my feet: life singing in the watercourses, throbbing in the creeks and the fields and the trees, choirs of millions of jumping and flying and creeping things.  And far above me the cool sky opens upon the frozen distance of the stars.

He did this as if he had to—as if these things had such an influence on his contemplative life and writing that he had to acknowledge them first.

Nature is a good place for a writer—young or experienced—to begin.  To get you started on your outdoor writing adventure, here are some ideas:

  1. Keep a nature journal.
  2. Sit outside away from people and do nothing. Write anything that comes to mind.
  3. Describe the smallest thing you can see outside. Do it with great detail.pen-1342655_1920
  4. While on a hike, imagine a story that might take place in that setting.
  5. Personify an aspect of nature that you see.
  6. Spend 15 minutes outside observing the world around you. Write about what you notice most.
  7. Go out on a very cold or very hot day. You might be uncomfortable. Try to find the good in what you feel and experience.
  8. When you are outside, which of your senses are you most thankful to have?
  9. If you don’t like to be outside, write while you are outside and tell what you don’t like about it.
  10. Write about the element of nature that speaks to you most.
  11. Write a story or poem about a leaf falling.
  12. Describe what a bird might see.
  13. Read outside. Remember, the key to being good writer is to read.
  14. While inside, read about nature and look at pictures of nature. Let these images and readings inspire your writing. For example, browse through the bird images of Alexander Wilson, American Ornithologist. Tell what you see. Describe how the birds might feel if you touched them. Think of any movement the pictures might suggest.

The options are plentiful and nature is ready for you to experience it—so get outside and write!