How to Write Policies and Procedures

Posted by
Julia in Technical Writing on 11/10/20218 min read

woman with tablet smiling

Policies and procedures or a policy and procedure manual is a document that gives employees on all levels the information on how to cope with daily operations, be compliant with laws standards, and regulations, how to make decisions, and establish internal processes.

Policies and procedures require a well-prepared documentation strategy.

Why Do Companies Need Policies and Procedures?

An efficient policy and procedure manual is the backbone of a company’s activity. This document does the following:

  • Transfers information on all levels. Senior management in large companies has no other method of spreading the information among subordinate employees, especially when a company has several branches or departments. The introduction of new equipment or software is a vivid example. Or, when two companies merge, policies and procedures become the only source of information for both sides. When you clearly see how things are done, it is easier to take over a business and get used to new terms.
  • Reduces mistakes, misunderstanding, and stress. Employees follow the rules, they surely know what and how should be done, who is responsible for particular functions, all the routine processes are smooth, as repeated mistakes are avoided. Fewer mistakes, less stress.
  • Reduces onboarding time. It conveys a company’s policy, ethics, core values, goals, objectives - everything. It is one of the first documents that should be studied by new employees. Moreover, they can find answers to some of their questions themselves without disturbing their colleagues or mentors.
  • Defines roles and responsibilities. That is a challenge to make all branches and departments of a company go like clockwork. That’s why it is a must to figure out who does what. It is the best way to make things done on time.
  • Regulates employee-employer relations. Both sides have their rights and duties. Policies and procedures help to find agreement upon controversial issues and protect both sides.
  • Improves the decision-making process. Corporate policies and procedures often describe the decision-making process and specify the factors and parameters that should be taken into consideration when making a decision.

Policies and procedures are considered to be dry and tedious. Actually, this statement often turns out to be true to life: authors are not happy to write boring stuff, and employees do not enjoy reading it. But if created wisely and with feeling, company policies and procedures can become a nice manual to deal with.

So, let’s see how to create a truly ravishing piece of writing but not another dreary manual!

man sitting at table using computer

Preparatory Steps to Writing Policies and Procedures

To create an efficient policy and procedure manual, it is not enough simply to collect information and describe the processes that take place in a company. One should carefully prepare for writing this document to make it useful indeed.

Define the End Goal

If you know your final goal, you’ll get to it faster than if you wander in darkness, not knowing your final destination. Consider why you are writing this document, what it should include, what processes it should describe, who is going to read it, etc. Perhaps, you’ll create several versions of the same document for different teams within your organization. Or you’ll simply create different sections for them. This will be clearly seen if you start with planning your document.

Writing a Document Is a Collaborative Task

The larger your business is, the more employees you should involve in creating policies and procedures. Why? First of all, no one can describe a process better than a person who deals with it every day. It is vital not only to document how things should be done but also to document the so-called tribal knowledge (an undocumented practice that exists in the majority of companies). Second, it is highly important to agree on the documented process with employees at higher levels. They may have a different vision of it, as they have more high-level goals. So, policies and procedures should have several reviewers.

Choose the Best Tool to Establish Writing Process

At the moment, the variety of technical writing tools is endless. They all have different sets of features that help to solve problems in different ways. Your main task is to find a technical writing tool to soothe your pains and soft spots and support your document development cycle from planning to maintenance. Here are the characteristics you are to pay attention to when choosing a tool:

  • Cloud storage. It is convenient to keep all documentation projects in the cloud: you can work on them online and from any location. And you can publish documentation online. That’s the best option, as online documentation is a must today.
  • Easy maintenance. You shouldn’t think that maintenance is a problem that you’ll solve later when it appears. Updating and maintaining documentation is as hard as creating it from scratch. Think about it as you only start planning your documentation strategy.
  • Teamwork. Efficient teamwork is a must when your documentation process involves several technical writers, several reviewers, and other stakeholders. Technical writers need the ability to work simultaneously on projects, and reviewers need to leave comments without changing the content. Other types of users simply need to keep track of how the documentation is being written.
  • Easy transition. If you already have tons of technical documentation but want to change your tool, don’t think that it’s impossible. There are tools that offer a simple transition process. Make sure your new tool supports the format that you use.
  • Content reuse. That’s another important thing. Some parts of your content are reused throughout the whole documentation project. Several manuals may have the same parts. The best solution is to store parts like that separately and insert them when you need to. The biggest advantage is when the source content is changed, it changes in all manuals it is used.

Writing Policies and Procedures: Best Practices

Here are some pieces of advice for you to create awesome policies and procedures for your company:

  • Divide information into logical sections, parts, etc. It contributes to better navigation. Information becomes very hard to deal with if it is spread among several topics or sections. Where should readers look for answers to their questions?
  • Make information readable by structuring the content in a clear way. For example, use lists or other small parts of content that are easily scannable. Read our post - Micro Content in Technical Writing to learn more about chunking content.
  • Label your sections the right way. Create clear and informative headings.
  • Be consistent. It refers to everything: use consistent terminology, be consistent in how you organize your documentation, how you divide content into sections, formatting, etc. For example, if you use warning or information boxes, they should be the same. Read more about creating note boxes in our post - Create Note Boxes in Online Documentation with HTML and CSS.
  • Keep your audience in mind. If you create the same policies and procedures for all types of users, probably that won’t work well. If your company has different branches (in different countries or cities), there may be some differences in their workflow and standards. General policies and procedures might not reflect all the peculiarities that should be reflected. Besides, in large companies, employees on different levels require different manuals. Of course, some parts will be identical for everyone, but each manual will contain something that is meant for this particular department, or team, or level.

Why Use ClickHelp for Creating Policies and Procedures?

ClickHelp is a modern online documentation tool that can help you a lot with writing your technical documentation and working out the entire documentation strategy. So how can ClickHelp improve your tech writing workflow?

Output Tags to Create Content for a Particular Audience

It was mentioned above that your audience in different branches of the same company may be a bit different, they may have different expectations and needs. Some pieces of information will be identical, and some parts - individual for each audience. You can create several manuals that will be slightly different. But will that be convenient? Not at all. Surely, you will have to update them sooner or later, and that will require a lot of effort. Can you imagine updating several manuals instead of just one? In ClickHelp, we have output tags that will enable you to create just one manual in a situation like that and tailor it according to the needs of different audiences. That’s how it works: you create a manual with the general content that is in common for all the audiences and add specific content marking it with special tags. See the example below:

output tags

When publishing the documents, you’ll choose an output tag, and each audience will get its own manual, though, actually, all the content will be stored in one place.

Snippets to Reuse Content

There are a lot of content pieces that should be repeated in different documents. Of course, you can use links in your policies and procedures to provide readers with this information. But people like it when all the information is in one place, and you don’t have to jump from one page to another. Snippets in ClickHelp are meant to help writers reuse pieces of content.

snippet

The main advantage of snippets, as mentioned above, is that when you need to update a piece of content in all the documents it is used, you’ll update only the source, and the content will update automatically in all the documents it appears.

Index Keywords for Better Navigation

Policies and procedures contain a lot of information. Very often, readers don’t have time to read it from cover to cover. They need to quickly find an answer to a particular question. In case you publish your documentation online, you can assign keywords to topics to help readers navigate.

keywords

This approach will make your policies and procedures more enjoyable and easy to use.

hand with pencil over laptop

Conclusion

A policy and procedure manual is the backbone of each large company. Creating policies and procedures is a challenging task that requires a strategy, and a highly important step here is choosing the right tool with powerful features to contribute to it. A carefully thought out plan is 50% of success.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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