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.
- 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:
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:
Let’s look at each one.
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:
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
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.
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.
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….
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.
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.