Common Writing Assignments

10 The Process (“How to”) Essay

The process or “how to” essay guides readers through the stages of completing a task successfully.  It is certainly among the most common forms of written discourse, an industry among publishers.  Think of the number of self-help books, cookbooks, textbooks, and guidebooks for doing virtually every activity you can think of. In school subjects, the process essay is also a common assignment. Explain how a bill becomes a law; how do you determine the theme of a poem; how do trees produce oxygen; how does company X market its product; how does a hydroelectric dam produce electricity; how do you serve a tennis ball?

The template for a process essay is usually straightforward. After the introductory paragraph, which provides some context and presents the thesis, comes a series of body paragraphs, each one explaining a step in the process. The conclusion often confirms the validity and usefulness the body of the essay has provided.

Read carefully the following process essay on how to treat a common cold.

Example: How to Treat a Common Cold

From that first itch in your nose to your final cough, a cold generally lasts from seven to ten days (Newman). Though researchers have yet to find a cure for these common but pesky viruses, some home treatments can provide relief from a cold’s most unpleasant symptoms.

During the first couple days of a cold, no symptoms will alert you that you’ve been infected, but by day three, you’ll start to sneeze, your body may ache, and you’ll likely have a tickle or soreness in your throat (Jones). Next, you’ll feel congestion in your sinuses; your nose will run and, due to inflammation around the airways, you may develop a cough that can persist after your other symptoms are long gone (Jones). Fortunately, two weeks after the infection, you will produce antibodies that prevent you from catching that particular cold virus again. Unfortunately, there exist around another 199 strains of cold virus, so you can easily pick up another one (Jones)!

Purported cold remedies are almost as common as the cold virus itself; some might even help ease your symptoms. Staying hydrated with water, clear broth or tea can loosen congestion; a saltwater gargle made with ½ teaspoon of salt in eight ounces of water can relieve a sore throat (Mayo Clinic). Over-the-counter saline nasal drops can relieve stuffiness, and pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with aches and fever, as long as you follow the recommended dosage. Some cold remedies contain multiple ingredients, such as a decongestant plus a pain reliever, so make sure you’re not taking too much of any medication and remember: medication will not shorten a cold’s duration (Mayo Clinic).

The list of cold remedies with conflicting evidence is long! Taking vitamin C before the onset of cold symptoms may shorten the duration of symptoms, but it appears that, for the most part, taking vitamin C won’t help the average person prevent colds (Mayo Clinic). Study results on whether echinacea prevents or shortens colds are also mixed. Some studies show no benefit, but others show some reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when taken in the early stages of a cold. Different types of echinacea used in different studies may have contributed to the differing results (Mayo Clinic).

There has been a lot of talk about taking zinc for colds ever since a 1984 study showed that zinc supplements reduced the severity of colds (Mayo Clinic). Since then, other studies have shown that zinc lozenges or syrup reduce the length of a cold by one day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold. Both echinacea and zinc have potentially harmful side effects. Talk to your doctor before considering the use of zinc to prevent or reduce the length of colds.

Evidently, the common cold defies medical science; it eludes both our immune systems and the pharmaceutical industry. Colds are most often caused by rhinoviruses, a large family of viruses with hundreds of variants. This makes vaccination impossible and gives our immune system a challenging task. Additionally, these viruses evolve rapidly, so even if we could produce vaccines to cover the full spectrum of rhinoviruses, they would quickly become resistant (Newman). However, according to a new study, help may soon be at hand.

Professor Ed Tate of Imperial College London in the United Kingdom and his team of scientists are taking a new approach. They have been looking for a compound to combat malaria and have found two molecules that become effective when combined. Using advanced techniques, they used these two molecules to produce a new compound that blocks an enzyme called N-myristoyltransferase (NMT), which is found in human cells. Viruses normally steal NMT from human cells and use it to create a protective shell; NMT is vital for the survival of cold viruses. All strains of the common cold virus use this technique, so inhibiting NMT would cure all strains of common cold virus. The researchers have high hopes for the drug, but much more research will be needed to confirm its efficacy and safety (Mayo Clinic).

Until then, it may be tempting to try the latest internet-approved remedy, but the best thing to do is take care of yourself. Rest, drink fluids, and try to wait patiently for your cold’s demise.

Works Cited

Jones, Amelia Jean. “Learn the Stages of a Cold and Beat the Winter Blues.”  Women’s Health Magazine, 14 Dec. 2018, Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “There’s No Cure for the Common Cold. But What about Cold Remedies that Claim to Make You Feel Better Faster?” 14 March 2018, Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.

Newman, Tim. “Understanding the Basics of a Common Cold.” WebMD. (n.d.), Accessed 15 Jan. 2019.


How to Treat a Common Cold

Study Questions

Respond to these questions in writing, in small groups, or both.

  1. What is the thesis of this essay? How does the writer support her thesis?
  2. For what audience or what type of reader is this essay written? How might the content and style of this essay change if it were written for health care professionals?
  3. A common and effective strategy for the conclusion of an essay is to look forward to future circumstances and conditions related to the essay’s thesis. How does this essay employ this strategy?

Writing Assignment

Write a process essay of about 750 words on one of the following topics: How to train for a marathon, cook a dinner for your boyfriend or girlfriend, buy a used car, win at poker, win at Fortnite (or other popular video game), dance the tango, teach an alien the rules of hockey (or a different sport); determine if a designer handbag is fake or real. You can also select your own topic or one provided by your teacher.


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Composition and Literature Copyright © 2019 by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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