Search and destroy: Process

After a flood or an earthquake, people used to clean up the mess. Now they begin “the cleanup process.”

Companies used to negotiate contracts. Now they get involved in “the negotiation process.”

A half-century ago we had peace talks between warring countries. Now we have “the peace process.”

“Process,” like our old friend “facility,” is a perfectly legitimate word that you rarely need. Usually it gets tacked on to other words without adding any meaning.

Why does “process” rarely add meaning? Because everything with more than one step is a process. Even that one step probably can be broken down into smaller steps, making it a process. So calling something a process isn’t telling me anything.

For instance, can you have a writing process? Of course you can. Writing teachers often lay it out as: planning, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.

But why stop there? You could put together five more lists detailing the planning process, the drafting process, the revising process, the editing process and the publishing process. Then you could break down each of those steps into even more processes.

Here are a few rules of thumb.

• If you are discussing the steps in a procedure, you have some justification for calling it a process. Even then, however, ask yourself if the word “process” is telling your reader anything they don’t already know. This week I read a white paper that said, “We teach an eight-step process.” I’d still get their point if the authors had written, “We teach eight steps.”

• If you aren’t discussing the individual steps, then you aren’t talking about a process at all. Just call the task by its name: writing, editing, publishing, farming, cleaning, or whatever it is.

• If you are talking about an action that hasn’t yet been completed, there’s almost never a reason to say “in the process of.” Say that you are writing a novel or memo or a laundry list, not that you are “in the process of” writing it. The present tense tells me that you haven’t finished yet. If you want to indicate how far along you are, say you have started writing, you are in the middle of writing, or you are almost done writing.

Adding words without adding content is like pouring extra water into your orange juice. You end up with more volume, but less flavor. Go on a search-and-destroy mission for “process,” and you’ll give your writing a quick boost.

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