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Decide on your procedure format

Decide on a format

The format you choose will depend on your purpose and use. If they are to be used to train new people or as a day-to-day reference, you will need something short and sharp that is easy to carry around and refer to. Your language will need to be very concise and pictures showing how-to-do are recommended. A common problem, even when businesses do have procedures, is getting people to refer to them. If they are lengthy, wordy and uninteresting, you’ll be battling to get them to leave the filing cabinet or the computer screen.

If you are documenting for compliance reasons, everyone knows what they are doing, and you don’t expect people to refer to procedures, then it may not be worth putting in the extra effort to make them concise and attractive. However, if you don’t put in the extra work to ensure your procedures are concise, chances are you have not examined your processes well enough and they too may be unnecessarily complex and lengthy.

If your procedures are only to refer to from time to time, when something unusual happens, or if a key person is away, you may not need to worry too much about format. However, be sure instructions are clear. Pictures are also helpful and convey a lot of information, without having to use too many words.

Sometimes you may be locked into the company format. If it is not very good, lobby to change it. Some tips for good templates:
• Use pictures – they convey much more information in a short space than words, they are interpreted more quickly, and they add interest
• Organise in tables – say a 2 or 3 column format. That way you can align pictures with relevant text
• Chunk information into small groups of around 5 – 7 steps. Use headings to describe what is achieved in each group of steps
• Include company logo in a prominent position
• Keep the template consistent – that way people know where to look for the information they need
• Avoid “Purpose” and “Scope” headings. The title of the procedure should indicate purpose and scope
• Ensure the procedure title is in the most “stand-out” text
• Include document control info, but in a brief header or footer – don’t let it dominate
• Keep generic and repeated information to a minimum (e.g. warnings, generic safety info.) People quickly learn to ignore it.