Procedures Writing Guidelines

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A Standard Operating Procedure is a set of instructions having the force of a directive, covering those features of operations that lend themselves to a definite or standardized procedure without loss of effectiveness.

Standard Operating Policies and Procedures can be effective catalysts to drive performance improvement and improve organizational results. Most quality systems are based on its standard operating procedures (SOPs).

With that in mind, you might want to consider the following points when writing your standard operating procedures (SOPs):

1. Purpose

Explain the objective the procedure is intended to achieve. This should be a brief 1 or 2 liner which makes it very clear to the reader what will be covered in this document. Avoid any ambiguous terms. Strive for accuracy. Use short, concise words. Avoid jargon and ‘industry speak’. Remember that the auditors review and evaluate procedures on a scheduled basis.

Highlight any exceptional occasions when users are allowed to ignore this procedure and the alternative procedures they must follow.

2. Scope
Identify the range of activities the SOP applies to, as well as limitations, exceptions, and pre-conditions.

3. Responsibility
Identify the personnel, departments, and contractors responsible for performing the procedure. Highlight the person responsible for training personnel.

4. Procedure
Explain the procedure with clear unambiguous steps. Identify who performs each step and any technologies or systems that are required to perform these steps.

5. References
List other related SOPs, supporting documentation, and applicable regulations.

6. Definitions
Define any words and acronyms used in the document.

7. Attachments
Attach any documents referred to in the SOP, e.g., flowcharts, work instructions, other procedures.

8. Version Control
Identify any changes that were made to the SOP; include the date, author and type of changes that were made.

9. Content

Write the procedure and then test it to make sure it is 1) correct, 2) concise, 3) complete, and 4) comprehensive.

Use language and a level of detail that is appropriate to the level of the user. Don’t talk above the user or switch writing styles in the middle of the procedure. Aim for consistency. Changes in language, style, formatting may undermine the reader’s confidence in the procedure and make them question its authenticity.

10. Tables
Use tables to display information that is best suited to a tabular format; matrices mat also serve the same benefit as readers can quickly extract the information without having to trawl through the entire document.

11. Voice
Write in the third person, use the present tense, and stick with the active voice. This gives the procedure a sense of directness and authority. Procedures written in the passive voice often come across as weak, vague and lacking conviction. Ensure that your material resonates with the reader and encourages them to follow the necessary steps.

Tip: Avoid references to gender (“they, their” rather than “he, she”) unless this helps to clarify an instruction or part of the text.

12.    Document Maintenance
Ensure that each page displays the procedure number, title, page number, and release date. Many readers will print out the sections that apply to their task only. Placing this document information in the footer helps ensure that the reader can retrieve and locate other similar information when necessary.

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