Although sometimes invisible to the user, the processing stage of e-discovery  involves a complicated number of steps as data moves from preservation and collection to analysis and review. Processing software can make the workflow easier to master and automate most of the steps involved. Nonetheless, legal professionals must understand the many functions involved and often make decisions about which steps should be included for a particular data set and/or which options at each step should be chosen.

The end goal of the processing stage is to prepare data, documents, email, files, instant messaging, etc, for the next and arguably most important stage of the process—analysis and review. If the data has not been processed properly, the resulting output may not be searchable, may contain bad metadata or may not even be reviewable. In such a case, the fundamental purpose of the e-discovery process is compromised and the ability to locate relevant information for trial or hearing fails.