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Procedure Writing: How to Write the Narrative Section

Use the following checklist to write the narrative section in standard operating 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.

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5 Procedure Writing Guidelines (with sample template)

Want to improve your procedure writing? Today we look at five simple ways to sharpen your SOPs. Let’s look at five terms frequently used in procedure manuals, instructional guides, and process design.

5 Procedure Writing Guidelines

In procedures, the following five words are often used incorrectly. To avoid these mistakes, do as follows”

  • Button Names – avoid using the, button name, or icon name. Write “Click Print.” Instead of “Click the Print button.”
  • Turn on/off – use ‘turn on’ or ‘turn off’ when activating or deactivating a command. Use Click to turn something on or off, for example: To turn on Web view, click Web.
  • Click OK – don’t write “Click OK” at the end of a procedure if it’s obvious that you must click OK to complete it.
  • When to use From – if your procedures refer to a keyboard, use ‘from’ to highlight the menu from where you can choose a command. For example, say “From the File menu, choose Print.”
  • When to use On – use ‘on’ to highlight where the command or option starts: “On the File menu, click Print.”

What other terms or phrases are often written incorrectly in procedures? Let me know and we’ll discuss it in a future blog post.

Learn more about this Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) template

Download this template – MS Word

Download this template – Apple iWork Pages

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FAQ Procedure Writing: Should you write Okay or OK?

In this procedure writing course, we look at different ways to improve your SOPs, processes, and instructions materials, so you have a consistent and effective writing style. Sometimes, it’s the small things that make a difference. And a good example of this is when to do with OK, Ok, and Okay. Which one should you use when writing procedures?

Something to consider is that each has it’s own place. The more you write procedures, the more you’ll understand when and where to apply these.

Writing Procedures: Okay v OK

  • Use okay to mean all right. You can avoid any potential confusion by using all right instead and omitting Okay, which may sound too informal, especially in business documents.
  • Use OK in relation to the user interface, for example, the OK button.

Note: do not use the and button when documenting the OK button in procedures.

  • Correct – In the Print window, click OK.
  • Incorrect – In the Print window, click the OK button. It’s fine to just say OK.
 Note: you don’t need to include “Click OK” at the end of a procedure if it’s obvious to the reader that they must click OK to complete it.
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Why Short Procedures Work Best… sometimes

If you are new to writing procedures there can be a temptation to dress up the language of the SOP to disguise your lack of experience or make the procedure sound more ‘professional’.

The opposite usually happens. The procedure sounds stiff, doesn’t flow, and is often unreadable. Instead, use short words, keep to the point, and help the reader understand the procedure as quickly as possible. In addition, avoid using jargon or industry speak that will confuse reader. And remember that are not everyone reading your procedure is not a native English speaker avoid using phrases or figures of speech that will trip people up. Aim for simplicity.

  1. Long v Short words – if you have a choice, use short monosyllable words rather than more complex, impressive sounding words. For example, use ‘get’ instead of ‘procure’. The meaning is that same.
  2. Redundant phrases – if you change phrases such as ‘in the event of’ and use ‘if’, the meaning remains the same. Other fillers include ‘at this point in time’, which can usually be deleted and have no impact on the integrity of the procedure.
  3. Fillers – phrases such as just now, simply click, and due to the fact that, can be changed to now, click, and because without changing the meaning of the text. Look for fillers like these in your text and also legacy materials that need to be updated.
  4. You v User – this may depend on your in-house style guide, but it’s worth considering how you address the reader. If you use ‘you’ when talking to the reader, it creates a more immediate impact. However, if you overdo it, it can sound too informal and chatty. Likewise, if you refer to ‘the user’ all the time, it can sound harsh and cold. After all, the reader is the user. Referring to the reader in the third person tends to distance them from you, the writer. So, before you start, consider the tone and phrasing you want to adopt. Then be consistent across all documents.

What’s important here is not whether the procedure is long or short. Instead, look for ways to explain how the procedure works as clearly as possible. In most cases, this means using simple, direct, and concise language. Get past trying to impress the reader – or your boss – and zero in on the task.

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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): Continue reading Procedures Writing Guidelines

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Process Design – Tips for Helping Your Team Adapt

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Image by Geodog via Flickr

So you have decided to adopt a more formal process for getting your projects done, congratulations.

It is a good decision that will help you better manage your projects, make your team more efficient and improve your chances of coming in on schedule and on budget. Continue reading Process Design – Tips for Helping Your Team Adapt