What is procedural writing?

Procedural writing is simply any text that provides instructions in a simple, step-by-step format. The name comes from the fact that the reader must follow a procedure to carry out the instructions. A procedural text is a great way to teach someone something new, from how to ride a bike to how to get from one place to another. Procedural writing is an excellent example of a non-fiction text your children might encounter.

What is the purpose of procedural writing?

The main thing that unites different types of procedural texts is their purpose. All procedural writing examples are informational and directional, aiming to instruct the reader and help them towards a specific goal.

What are some examples of procedural writing?

Procedural texts are everywhere, and your child will likely have encountered forms of procedural writing from a young age. It might include formats such as:

  • A recipe – how to cook something;
  • Directions – how to get from one place to another;
  • A how-to guide – for example, how to tie your shoelaces;
  • Rules – for example, of a board game;
  • Safety procedure – telling you how to stay safe, for instance, if there’s a fire;
  • Craft instructions – such as how to make a paper chain;
  • Instruction manual – how to use a new toy.

There are plenty more types of procedural writing out there – these are just a few common examples. So why not get your class to see if they can think of any more specific examples they have encountered recently?

Standard features of procedural writing

While they might have different formats, procedural writing texts are all connected because they have the same aim: to instruct the reader. Because of this, many features of the genre are standard, including:

  • An introduction that clearly states the purpose of the text to the reader – this could be as simple as one sentence or could be a whole paragraph with a little bit of backstory;
  • Numbered instructions – this will help the reader to know the order they must follow and will also help them keep their place if they’re carrying out the instructions as they read;
  • Imperative commands, such as “mix the ingredients” or “do this,” – are verbs that specifically tell the reader to do an action at that moment;
  • Second-person language (“next you mix in…”) – this reinforces the fact that the reader is expected to carry out the instructions;
  • Time phrases to signpost instructions, such as “first,” “next,” and “then”;
  • Present tense – as the reader is likely to attempt the steps while they read or very soon after;
  • Vocabulary specific to the procedure – for example, baking-related terms in a recipe.

Not all procedural texts will have every one of these features, but they are familiar. Knowing these typical features of procedural writing are an excellent way for your class to recognize the genre when they encounter it.

How to write a procedural text

If you’re writing a procedural text, there are a few simple steps you can follow to make it as good as it can be:

  • Explain your aim in the title. The whole point of a procedural text is to explain how to do something. Your title should let the reader know what this is – for example, How to boil an egg.
  • List all the equipment. If you’re describing a procedure that requires equipment, you need to list all this equipment clearly at the beginning of your text. It means the reader can be prepared. An excellent way to do this is to add a ‘You will need’ subheading. Then, list the items in the order the reader will need, just in case, they don’t get all their equipment together before starting the procedure.
  • Keep things in the correct order. When writing a procedural text, you must think very carefully about the steps you take to carry out the procedure you’re writing about. For example, in what order do you perform these steps? You must write down all the steps correctly so the reader can get the procedure right.
  • Write it as a list. It would be best to tell the reader what they need to do step by step. Write the steps as bullet points or a numbered list to make the sequence as straightforward as possible. You can also use sequencing words such as ‘first…’ and ‘then…’ so the reader can follow the steps in order more efficiently.
  • Use simple language. You aim to help the reader complete this procedure without making any mistakes. To achieve this, you need to keep your language straightforward, so they can easily understand it.
  • Include diagrams and pictures. Lots of people learn visually. So including diagrams and photographs is a great way to help your reader understand what you’re helping them to do and what the different steps should look like. In addition, your graphs should be labeled so the reader can see how they should use the equipment. If you can include a video, too, that’s even better, as many people find video more accessible to follow than written text.
  • Explain the outcome. The reader needs to know what the finished result should look like or what they should have achieved at the end of the procedure. It means you need to write a clear explanation of the outcome. It should come at the end of your procedural text after you’ve listed all the steps.
  • Read it back. Once you’ve finished writing your procedural text, it’s essential to read it back thoroughly from start to finish. Would you be able to complete the procedure based on what you’ve written? It is where you can see if you’ve missed any steps or forgotten to include a vital piece of equipment.
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