How to write effective policies and procedures

How to write effective policies and procedures


“In this age of constant change, well-written policies and procedures are crucial,” says Jennifer Lazarow, instructor of “Writing Policies and Procedures” from CIE’s Professional Development Center. “Whether we are a customer, an employee, or a manager, we all have questions and occasionally need to ‘double check’ the rules. Well-written policies and procedures give us the knowledge and security that we are doing the right things, the right way.”

“Writing Policies and Procedures” offers valuable guidance in creating clear, usable documents that help ensure a company’s operational and business success. “Sometimes people feel overwhelmed by the enormity of creating the policies, procedures or documentation for their company,” says Lazarow. “Some companies have an overabundance of rules and it’s hard to know where to start, how to be appropriate, or how to find a consistent voice. Bringing structure to the policies brings structure to the company itself. That’s a daunting task.”

In this course, participants bring samples of their current work place policies and procedures to review in the class. Participants have opportunities to review their documents and compare them against the lessons learned in the course. Time is allotted to begin revising documents right away with instructor and peer input.

Lazarow offers a few tips as a preview of the course:

  • Write for the end user, not the lawyers. Policies (the “whats” and the “whys”) and especially procedures (the “hows”—how to perform our jobs properly and safely, how to ensure quality in our products and services, how to treat our coworkers and employees) should be written in a clear, direct style targeted to the end user. Too many policy and procedure manuals are ignored or never read because they are too wordy, boring, or confusing.
  • Use the present tense, active voice whenever possible. Our policies and procedures are alive. They reflect the current state. So avoid phrases such as “will be monitored,” “is then approved,” or “should be attached.” Instead, write “monitor,” “approves,” and “attach.”
  • Get rid of “should” and “shall” and use “must.” If a particular step or action is required, then we must do it—and must is the word that reflects that necessity. Shall is outdated and encourages litigation. Should implies the action is optional or a best practice (but not required). Don’t use "should" because you think it sounds more polite.
  • Communicate—early and often. A new policy or a revised procedure manual should not be a secret. Let your co-workers and employees know about the project, ask for their input, and get their validation that what you are writing is, in fact, the way the work is accomplished at your organization.

Writing Policies and Procedures” takes place August 25. The PDC offers it again in the spring 2011 semester.


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