The guilty pleasure of writing policy and procedure documents

We have a number of projects running at the moment that involve us improving organisations’ policy and procedures documents. It may not seem likely, but these projects are enormous fun.

The best analogy I can find is that it’s like rearranging someone else’s record collection. Or in a more modern setting, it’s like creating a playlist from someone else’s mp3 files. Everything ends up in order, or as Hans Christian Anderson said, “everything in the right place”.

The trick with policy and procedures documents is to break them in to small chunks of information, each of them preceded by a heading that describes the topic. The key factor is: each topic must only contain the information described by the heading. This activity results in the equivalent of a big bag of lego bricks – giving you, as your next step, the pleasant task of connecting and arranging all these topics into the right order.

To work in this modular, object, based way it’s best to avoid tools that take a more linear approach, such as Microsoft Word. We’d recommend, instead, you use a ‘modular’ authoring tool that enables you to generate a Word or PDF document once you’ve finished.


John Tait

Can you please tell us a bit more about your workflow in one or more of these projects?

You’re basically describing my job, but most large organisations have a long tradition of using prescribed tools (Word), so it’s culturally difficult to write in a modular way as part of a larger team.

How do you deliver finished but maintainable documents to an organisation that doesn’t write in topics?

I think considering workflow is important because the authoring tool is usually just one small part of the process of developing policy and procedure documents. There’s stakeholder reviewing, management of comments and feedback, collaboration in a working group, content management over the longer term, publishing, etc.

I’d be interested to hear how you can introduce a new tool but still make it fit part of the larger chain.


Workflow is for one client: We write a draft, amended policy document. We published this as a PDF. The client reviews the document and suggests amendments either using PDF comments or by email or a change document. We amend the document in the authoring tool and generate revised document. Repeat and rinse until the document is signed off. In their case, the documents are published as PDF documents.

For another client, the workflow is automated within the tool itself. Each document has an owner/editor who can approve/deny any changes to a topic. You can also set owners for specific topics. The document is read online as Web pages, and it can be published as a PDF or Word document.

Manu Savio Thomas

Adobe InDesign is a good software for the above mentioned style of working

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