How to Write an Effective Policies and Procedures Manual
Policies tell readers what to do and why it's done. Procedures tell readers how to do it. Together, they define an organization and ensure operations run smoothly.
Written by technical writers, a policies and procedures manual combines policies and procedures into one document. Readers such as managers can reference the manual to carry out operations appropriately.
Let's dig into the technical writing definition of this manual, its benefits, and how to write a policy and procedures manual for your organization effectively.
What is a policies and procedures manual?
A policies and procedures manual is an internal document that details a company's policies and procedures that ensure employees follow the policies.
Although closely related, here are the differences between policies and procedures:
The big keyword for policies is “guiding." Policies direct, guide, and influence decision-making, daily operations, actions, and strategies. They establish a framework of management philosophies, aims, and objectives.
Policies are broad and general. They don't tend to change frequently, and cover various topics:
- sick time and paid leave
- acceptable work behavior
- workplace discrimination
- employee onboarding
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Communication policies, an anti-racism policy, a dress code policy, and a disciplinary policy are other examples.
Here's a specific example: a public school might have a single policy that a fire drill should be held once a month to ensure safety in an emergency that requires an evacuation.
Procedures describe, step by step, what actions to take in specific instances.
These narrow-focused documents have a beginning and an end and should be strictly followed to achieve the desired outcome. Procedures continuously change and improve, offering a detailed description of activities.
Procedural topics include:
- emergency procedures
- material ordering
- equipment operation
- how to inventory supplies and goods
- how to assemble products
Payment procedures, inspection procedures, and technology usage procedures are other examples.
Let's revisit the fire drill policy. Following the policy, the fire drill procedure maps out where each classroom should go in the case of a fire drill, noting specific routes and offering alternatives. The procedure will likely change and improve as the drills are practiced.
Benefits of a policies and procedures manual
A policies and procedures manual place all policies and procedures in one document so management, supervisors, and other employees can easily reference and meet expectations for company operations.
Having this manual benefits the company in multiple ways:
- Consistent operations. Employees, new and old, know exactly what procedures they need to follow and why thanks to the policies. This ensures consistency, accuracy, and higher productivity. It's also easier to train new employees.
- Improved safety. The manual ensures that employees are compliant with regulations. The company and employees are then protected in case of accidents or policy violations.
- Accountable employees. Managers can hold employees accountable, sharing the manual to ensure compliance with policies and procedures.
This manual is also helpful during annual company audits. Organizations are often required to give auditors internal controls and policies for their audit reports. A manual shows that your controls and policies are well-documented.
Related: Guide to Strong Policy Writing
How to create a policies and procedures manual
Take a step-by-step approach to planning and writing a manual:
Step 1: Analyze your audience
First, understand who will be reading your manual. You'll use this info to plan out what content will go into the document and how you'll structure the sections. The time spent planning will save you time when you start writing.
Your manual's reader is one of the most important elements of planning your manual. Who is going to read the document, and what are their needs? The typical readers of this manual are
What do you want the reader to know or do? What's the purpose of the document? Answer these questions before planning out the content.
Step 2: Plan out your content and structure
Once you have your audience analysis, map out what information will go into the manual. You'll likely have to research pre-written policies and if procedures need to be written to accompany the policies.
Perhaps you already have a separate policy manual and procedure manual. Pull the information from these documents to combine it into a cohesive manual. We recommend creating an outline or concept map to organize your details and determine how you want to categorize and sequence the info.
Here's an example sequence to follow for your manual:
- Personnel Policies
- Financial Policies
- Procurement Policies
- Records Management Policies
Collaborate with your team members (e.g., managers who understand company policies). Get their opinions on the content you've generated and if you're missing key information. Add to your outline or concept map if so.
Step 3: Write the different sections and edit the document
Now that you have a detailed content plan, time to draft the actual policy and procedure manual. Here are a few tips for creating a reader-focused policy:
- Keep it short. Policies and procedures are already complex. You can still write detailed descriptions, but take the time to make the document as concise and clear as possible. Also, use short paragraphs. This helps with reader understanding.
- Use headings and bullets. Make your policies and procedures clear and visually appealing by organizing the information with headings and bullets. Headings serve as visual signposts for different sections. Bullets help the reader visually digest the info.
- Don't assume. Certain policies and procedures might seem intuitive to you but spell them out anyway, especially if you're presenting a step-by-step procedure. Be specific and don't assume the reader knows what you're talking about.
- Follow a style guide. A style guide helps you write in a particular style. It provides a set of standards or writing rules/recommendations for the tone, grammar, and structure of a technical document. If your company doesn't already follow a particular one (e.g., AP Stylebook), here's a list of technical writing style guides to consider.
Also, try to use simple language rather than falling back on jargon. Remember that the document should be easy for your reader to understand.
Related: Procedure Writing
Step 4: Publish the manual online
Ensure that your manual is easy for managers, supervisors, and employees to access. We recommend publishing online so the manual can be accessed by computer or mobile device. You could publish through an internal portal or even on your website, like Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola has an entire library of policies!
Step 5: Review and revise at least once a year
Your manual shouldn't be a stagnant document. Changes constantly occur in an organization, such as by-laws or the executive team. Make sure it's up-to-date by reviewing it at least once every year.
Schedule a specific time for an annual or bi-annual review. Check if any procedures need updating or if a policy doesn't apply anymore. Involve managers and the policy team in the process. Ask how the manual is being used and if there are any gaps or common employee questions. Add or revise sections as needed.
Write your policies and procedures manual
Equipped with these steps, you're ready to create your company's policies and procedures manual. Remember: planning can save you so much time with this complex document. Plan out your document before you ever begin writing.
At Instructional Solutions, we offer online technical writing courses with comprehensive lessons, exercises, and individualized feedback to help new or experienced policy and procedure writers. No matter your policy or procedure assignment, Instructional Solutions helps you take a technical writing approach to create effective policies and procedures.