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Procedure Writing: Naming Convention Guidelines and Examples

Why are naming conventions so important in procedure writing?

If you’re responsible for writing SOPs, then you need to develop naming conventions that help you control how procedures are written, reviewed, published, and archived.

Don’t worry – it’s not as difficult as it sounds.

Naming Conventions 101

The first question is: what are naming conventions?

In simple terms, this is how you name your documents in a structured manner.

For example:

  • Draft documents will end with a D.
  • When they get published, their status changes to P.
  • When they get archived, they’re changed to A.

If you track your documents in an Excel file, they might look like this:

  • MyBank-SOP-0512-D
  • MyBank-SOP-0512-P
  • MyBank-SOP-0512-A

That’s the basics. How about when things get a bit more complicated?

Sample SOP Naming Conventions

The key is have consistency across the SOPs. In other words, use a naming convention that’s easy to follow, understood by all writers, and meaningful.

Avoid obscure or cryptic terms. Keep it practical. If you don’t, SOP writers may stop using the guidelines and you’ll find it very hard to trace documents.

With that in mind, here are some naming conventions I created for a software company:

ABC-US-0512-D-1
XYZ-UK-0712-P-2
TNT-GBL-1212-A-1

Let’s look at each one.

ABC-US-0512-D-1

This means

ABC – name of the client
US – for the US offices
0512 – published on May 5th
D – Draft status
1 – Revision one

XYZ – name of the client
UK – for the UK offices
0712 – for December 7th (not July the 12th)
P – Published
2 – version two, i.e. It had been revised twice

You get the idea.

By creating a naming convention like this, we can apply these guidelines to all document types. But there are a few pitfalls to avoid. More on this later.

SOP Naming Conventions: Guidelines

Here are some guidelines for naming your documents. Name the SOPs in the following manner:

  • SOP document owner/client, e.g. XYZ
  • Project Name, e.g. Fin for Finance or SWD for Software Development
  • SOP to highlight that it’s a SOP document
  • Abbreviated Title, e.g. BankCreditCardApplication
  • Version Number, e.g. v1_0, v1_1, v2_0
  • Document Number, e.g. 616

This means that the official name of the SOP will be:

XYZ_SWD_SOP_BankCreditCardApplication_v1_2_616

Use underscores to separate SOP naming elements.

Also, use this SOP naming convention in the header and/or footer. I’d also suggest that you place it on the cover sheet.

SOP Naming Conventions: Updating

The next question is how to update SOPs.

Most SOPs are living documents and will go through different revisions until they are archived or purged.

In either case, you need to watch out for a few things when controlling these documents. Most procedure writers focus on the first part of the naming convention:

  • SOP document owner / client
  • Project Name
  • SOP

But may pay less attention to the following three, especially if they’re using File, Save As to create new documents:

  • Abbreviated Title
  • Version Number, e.g. V1_0, v1_1, v2_0
  • Document Number

There are a few mistakes to watch out for here.

Version Number

Make sure you increment (i.e. go up one level) when the document is revised.

But, make sure you change the first or second character. The first 1 refers to the final version for that release. The second number refers to minor revisions made to the document, such as small text changes. So, be careful here in case and don’t change 1_1 to 2_0 if it should be 1_2.

Dates

In some countries 0507 means the fifth of May. In others, the fifth of June.

It depends where you are. Europeans and Americans use different conventions for dates of the year. So, double-check before you assume it’s the fifth of May….

Archives

When a SOP is archived, make sure to add an A to indicate Archive and, if possible, add a watermark highlighting that this document is not to be used.

MS Word and Adobe PDF both come with watermark tools. You can also use these for Draft documents.

SOP Naming Conventions: Best Practices

The key to controlling SOPs are to create guidelines that are easy to follow, manage, and share.

This means when it comes to naming them:

  • Brevity rules – Keep the name of the SOP are short as possible. Use plain english language that describes the content in the file name; avoid vague terms such as file_011.
  • Use keywords – This helps with searches. Think ahead and remember your documents may get stored on a web server. Naming the documents after clients or projects makes them that bit easier to find.
  • Avoid Spaces – Don’t use blank spaces, dashes, punctuation or special characters in file names. While it may look easier to read, it creates other problems, for example, readers ‘seeing’ two file names instead of one.
  • Case Sensitive – Remember that some servers are case sensitive. I’d suggest planning ahead and using all lowercase rather than risking potential issues if you use mixed case.

Conclusion

Before you start writing your SOPs, give some thought to how they will be managed a year from now.

How will hundreds of documents, with different versions, and status controls be managed effectively. Possibly by someone else.

Create a meaningful naming convention and then explain to the procedure writers how it works. Don’t assume everyone will understand it. Share examples and make yourself available to help others, especially those who are new to procedure writing.

Any questions, drop me a line.

Use this Excel spreadsheet to manage your SOP version history, document contributors, and clarifications
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Stage 9 – Publishing the Standard Operating Procedures

sop-publish-procedures

Yesterday we looked at the steps involved in getting the procedures signed-off. Once the documents are signed off, we can now look at how to publish the SOPs.

This process is relatively simple… if the correct guidelines are in place. But guidelines I mean naming conventions, track changes have been applied correctly, the document is converted to PDF correctly, uploaded to the Document Management System, and outdated documents are moved to the Archive folders.

How to Control Documents

Think about it for a second. You’ve just revised an existing document that may be on the desks, hard-drives and server across the company.

How do you get the new version in front of people AND take the old version back off them. That’s it in a nutshell. And there are different ways to do it.

Communicate Frequently

If you are the Document Owner, then it’s your responsibility to ensure the correct version is published – not only to the intranet but all places where you know people download and share the SOPs. To do this, you need to use a three-pronged attack:

Give advance notice that the SOPs are about to be changed. A short email with an attention grabbing headline should warn readers that the SOPs they are currently using will soon be out of date. If possible, give the date for the new, revised publication.

Email all Dept heads who use the SOP when it has been updated. Note: if the changes are minor, don’t annoy the team leads with these emails. Instead email those who use it most frequently. CC the Team Leads if you want.

Remind the Team Leads and Users a week after the document has been published that out-dated documents should be purged from their PCs. For major releases, you may need to find other ways to harvest out-dated documents.

Use Naming Conventions

Ensure that the correct naming conventions has been applied to the procedures. At a minimum, the documents should include details of the Document Type, Department, Date, and Status. For example, SOP-IT-070512-F.

This allows you to control documents and ensure that you can manage them more effectively. You may need to spend time teaching your Procedure Writers how to use Naming Conventions. Keep an eye on how they do this as there will always be teething pains. Don’t assume the ‘experienced’ writers know how to do this correctly. Some samples and Style Guides always help.

Check Track Changes

If you use MS Word, then you probably use Track Changes to add comments when reviewing the documents. This is usually easy to manage if there is only one document review. You simply accept the changes and update the document.

However, be careful if there are multiple changes from different authors to the same document. This can look like a spider’s web of scribbles. Look at each review one by one and make sure the correct text is updated. When three of four reviewers add their own comments, check that the final text agrees with ALL comments, not just the last one.

Convert to PDF

Most MS Word documents are then converted into Adobe PDF. This lets you share the document over the web without others changing the text.

You can apply a range of security settings to the PDFs. This include:

  • Password protect the SOP.
  • Adding a navigation menu.
  • Create hyperlinks to other documents.
  • Ensure that readers cannot copy and paste text from the PDF.
  • Stop readers from printing it out. To do this, get the full Acrobat suite (the Reader isn’t enough) or look at other PDF tools that let you control the document settings.
  • Apply metadata to the PDF, such as the Author’s name, keywords and other file properties.
  • Optimize the PDF for Print, Web or Screen reading. This may impact the quality of images used in the PDF and the file needs to be compressed for faster downloading.

Uploaded to Document Management System

Once the PDF is in good shape, upload it to where you store your SOPs. In general, you should had a dedicated area on the network where all SOPs are filed.

Not only is this best practice, but it helps you control the documents and simplify the management process. If your SOPs are scattered across the network, they become very difficult to control. Outdated documents will stay in circulation under-mining the good work your team has put in and possibly jeopardizing the safety of those who use the SOPs.

Here’s one approach:

  • Create a folder for each department.
  • In each folder, create two sub-folders. Final and Archive.
  • Upload the final documents to the Final folder.
  • Move the out-dated files to the Archive folder.
  • Create a Trash folder and more all fragments and incorrectly labelled documents here.

A simple filing structure lets others see where the correct documents are stored. Avoid the temptation to create complex filing structures. You’ll end up in knots trying to work out where you put things.

Create an Archive

Move outdated documents into the Archive folder. Note that this folder may have several versions of the same document. Check that the naming conventions have been applied correctly. All documents should following the same numbering system. If not, look into it as one of your team may understand how to apply these correctly.

Is it 0705 or 0507?

It depends where you are?

In some parts of the world, it’s Month and then Day. In others, it’s Day and then Month.

Watch out for this when the Dates can be interpreted either way.

0705 could be the seventh of May or the fifth or July.

Depends where you are…

Backup Very ‘Olde’ Documents to Tape

Consider purging documents when they are over X number of years old. Or remove them from the network and keep them backed up on tape, just in case someone wants to see them for compliance or audit reasons.

If you keep all your documents on your own server (or PC), then pretty soon you’ll run out of space.

  • Keep the most essential documents on your PC, just in case.
  • File the Final documents on the Document Management System.
  • File the Archive documents on the Document Management System or move to a Backup server.
  • Remove Old documents to tape.

Conclusion

Your success in managing SOPs in a combination of things. It’s about writing, of course. But, it’s also about the other activities that interact with the writing process, such as getting Management support, Reviewing the documents and Publishing them to the Internet/Intranet.

One of the paradoxes for me as a Procedures Writer is that the more I work in this field, the less I write. Most of my time is spent as a ‘Mother Hen’ watching my baby documents and make sure they do to the right place at the right time.

How do you manage procedures after they have been written? What do you do to make sure others use the right document and that the old versions get purged?