How to Write a Procedure Manual

A procedure is like a recipe—a set of instructions that clearly states who does something, when it should be done, how it's done and what the result should be. List each step in the order it must be completed. Compile multiple procedures in a manual that's organized by job description, department, function or whichever order makes the information most accessible to the manual's users. Don't confuse policies with procedures. Policies are rules or statements of position; procedures are what people follow to carry out policies.

Decide which procedures to document. Two methods for choosing your manual's content are to survey potential manual users to find out which tasks they need clarified or more information on, or you may prefer to make a list of operational problems you could solve with clearly defined procedures.

Gather information. A person already doing the task is your best resource unless you’re creating procedures from scratch. Watch the person perform the task and take notes, or ask the person to write down for you all the steps involved in the task, as well as any tips or warnings learned through experience.

Establish your manual's layout. A two-column format makes procedures clear and easy to read. Title each page with the procedure’s name, and put below the title a list or paragraph of any facts that don’t fall within a step, such as how frequently the procedure is performed and tips or warnings. The procedure should follow after that in a two-column table.

Write a rough draft. In the left column, list the person responsible for the procedure. In the right column, list in order the steps that person performs. If the procedure involves multiple people, they should all be able to clearly see where they fit in the process and what they need to do.

Test the procedures. Get someone unfamiliar with the procedures to follow them from the draft. It’s important to use someone inexperienced, so the person won't take any habitual shortcuts or gloss over unclear points another reader wouldn't understand.

Revise the draft. Clarify, add, delete and rearrange steps until the procedures can be followed by anyone reading the manual.

Publish the manual. Include a table of contents so readers can quickly locate procedures. Add a glossary defining any terminology that's uncommon or specific to your industry.

Tips

  • Don't use elegant word variation to liven up the writing. A "widget" is a widget every time, not an "item" or a "device." Describing things consistently may be repetitive, but it improves clarity for readers.

References

About the Author

Since 1983, Karen Ellen has written on business, technology, cruise travel, feline and general interest topics, and has been published at AbsoluteWrite.com and in "Cruise Travel," "Credit Union Business" and "PC Solutions" magazines. She has authored two nonfiction business books, and holds a bachelor's degree in human resource management from the University of Richmond.