Improving policy and procedures documents

I’ve been trying to work out why we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of enquiries relating to improving policy and procedures documents.

Typically, these documents relate to very important issues. For example: dealing with vulnerable people calling an emergency hotline, and ensuring patient records are always handled confidentially and securely. Reading these documents, it makes you wonder how the staff can do their job in a low risk way. The documents are often written in a way that makes it almost impossible for the reader to remember any of the content.

We usually see the same common problems within these documents. The sentences individually can make perfect sense, but the content is nearly always organised and structured poorly and inconsistently.

The best way to improve policy and procedures documents is to have separate topics for policy, process and procedure. Have a single “message” within each topic or paragraph. This approach helps readers comprehend and remember the policy, process or task.

One of my colleagues identified the most likely reason why we’ve seen the increase in enquiries: with tightened budgets, it’s likely organisations have been asking people who know the subject matter, but aren’t necessarily trained in how to write policy and procedures documents, to write these documents. The other possibility is that these documents have been a group effort – different people have written sections as and when they have had time to contribute.

The cost and consequence of the policy documents not being up to the job perhaps has become clearer. Perhaps it’s now easier to see the value of documents that are written clearly and effectively.


One Comment

Larry Yrigollen

Over my career have worked as a document control administrator. During this time, learned most folks do not know why to separate documents?
Each document type has a different purpose and audience.
Policies are topic specific while procedures may address multiple topics or elaborate on multiple policies, and work instructions are task or activity specific and should not include any policy or procedure verbiage, except for a safety statement.
Work Instructions
Hope this brief but to the point article will help those whom do not understand why to separate documents, seems to be quite a few out there, and they claim to have years of experience.
Larry Yrigollen

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