Writing Procedures: Tips on How to Create Effective Documents
Employee Management Articles
Submit Articles Back to Articles
Efficient organizations create and maintain documents that
explain the how and why of the many activities performed by its
employees. In this article, I have used the blanket term "procedures".
However, the tips contained here are equally applicable to the other
kinds of procedure related documents found in today's organizations.
The typical hierarchy of documents regulating the actions of employees
can be summarized as:
high level directive from management applying usually to
the entire organization
specifies how a policy is to be implemented, with a high
level description of activities and responsibilities
- Process Map:
graphical representation of a flow of activities
undertaken to achieve a specific outcome
- Work Instruction:
detailed step-by-step instruction for performing a work
This hierarchy cascades from the most general and
non-prescriptive policies down to the most specific and prescriptive
work instructions. These document types may be named differently in
your organization. However they are called, understanding their purpose
and importance will help you, the writer, to create documents of value
for the entire employee base.
What are the reasons for wanting to create such documents and
what worth do they add to an organization? I see these three key
purposes in writing procedures and related documents:
They are an important communication
device, signaling an organization's requirements to employees.
Committing the requirements to writing ensures that the message is
consistent each time it is communicated. The information transmitted is
less likely to suffer from the memory lapses and personal biases of the
They document agreements reached
about the way things are to be done and why. The best policies and
practices are the result of healthy debate amongst the various
stakeholders and some trail and error. Documenting the result of these
discussions and experiences validates these valuable agreements.
They set an agreed starting point
or baseline from which future proposed improvements to the policy or
practice might be discussed, compared and measured. By standardizing
the policy or practice, variations are avoided, and people discussing
how the process could be improved are all singing from the same hymn
To get the most from your procedure writing efforts, here are
some key tips for writing useful and effective documents.
Use a standard format for each of your document types.
Each type of document will sport its own specific fields; however, some
common fields I recommend are these:
the objective or reason for the policy or practice
the departments, functions, areas or employees to
which the policy or practice applies
other documents that need to be read for a full
understanding of the policy or practice
an explanation of any technical terms,
abbreviations, acronyms and jargon used
- Change History:
a brief description of changes from previous versions
Use language that your audience
will understand. If the native language is not the readers' first
language, keep the language simple. Test the readability of the
document on a sample of employees before release. Explain any technical
terms or acronyms used in the document.
Write procedural documents using
active verbs. Readability studies reveal that the active tense is
easier to understand and injects text with a sense of action. Including
plenty of white space (the space between text, graphics and page
borders) also aids readability.
Leave out the verbiage. Use bullet
points and numbered lists wherever possible. Include only as much as is
needed to explain the policy or prescribe the procedure.
Mark the version of each revision
of the document so that people don't get them mixed up. Keep a list of
the details about the most current versions of each document and post
the list in an easily accessible place, such as on your company's
Include a cross-section of the
people impacted by the policy or practice in the writing of the
document. Getting people who do the work to participate in the writing
leads to a more comprehensive and accurate document and a greater
commitment from the people who matter most.
Procedures and related documents serve a central purpose in
the harmonious and efficient workings of any organization. Get maximum
value from your procedure writing efforts by being clear about their
purpose, standardizing their formats, checking their readability and
employees impacted by the document.
© Copyright Leslie Allan
About the Author
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of
Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing
in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations
for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager,
consultant and trainer for organizations large and small. Mr. Allan is
a prolific writer on business issues, with many journal and web
articles to his credit. He is also the author of five books on employee
capability, training and change management. His company's web site is a
rich source of information, advice and tools in a variety of business
and management areas. Visit Mr. Allan's Business Performance
web site to download trial versions of products, free
templates and introductory chapters. Authors Google+
Follow us @Scopulus_News