20 Ways to Improve the Narrative Section in SOPs


The following checklist describes how to write the narrative for procedures.

Essentially, there are three things to be aware of:

1. The numbering of the steps

2. The description of the actions

3. The accuracy of the steps and actions in relation to the diagram.

Later, we’ll look at how to write the actual procedure. But, for now, let’s agree on some guidelines for documenting the narrative. The narrative is the text which accompanies the process flow diagram.

1. Start at Step 0. Identify the first step in the procedure, which is the formal starting point in the procedure. Identifying Start as 0 is the simplest way to capture it.

2. For the steps, use a X.x numbering convention for the steps. This allows you to group actions under the same number and avoid having a very lengthy number list. So, for example, go from 1.0, 1.1 etc, to 5.0, 5.1 etc instead of going up to 25.

3. For the actions, use the active voice.

4. State who does what.

5. Write the actions starting with a verb. For example, Step 2: Print page. Step 3: Save page. Here Print and Save are the verbs. This type of phrasing works as it identifies immediately what to do at each step.

6. Be as concise as possible. Remove filler text but make sure, in your enthusiasm, you don’t delete any necessary information.

7. If possible, distill the description into a single sentence. If this is not possible, identify the most important action first, then add additional text to explain, clarify or warn the reader of something they should be aware of.

8. Describe one action in each step. This helps the reader see, at a glance, what occurs at each step. It also helps them check against the diagram.

9. Avoid the temptation to merge multiple actions into a single step.

10. Be consistent in the Yes No order. If 2.1 is Yes, then in 3.1, use Yes. Don’t change the sequence as this breaks the rhythm of the procedure.

11. When adding Yes and No to the lines, put them slightly above the line not in it. Placing the text on the line make it more difficult to read.

12. Where possible use straight lines.

13. Make arrow heads connect to the target shape. Don’t let it hang.

14. Make arrow heads straight.

15. Use consistent colors for your shapes.

16. Remove filler text from descriptions.

17. Identify the final step as the End.

18. If necessary, add a third column to your table. Use this to identify the product or system which performs the action. If tasks are performed by more than one actor, for example, some by a person, some by a CRM system, and others by database, then consider identifying the actor in its own column instead of describing it in the Action column.

19. Check the procedure by starting at the end and working up to the start.

20. Print out the process flow diagram and identify each step. If necessary, use a pen and draw a circle around each step. This ensures that you check each activity on the diagram. If you’ve missed something, you’ll see it immediately.