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Vivienne Begg, Structured Writing Facilitator

How good is your documentation?

When I talk to clients, many of them acknowledge that their documentation is poorly written. In fact, one client recently went so far as to tell me ‘our Standard Operating Procedures are rubbish’!

The state of your organisation’s documentation may not be a high priority. But if these documents are poorly written, they won’t be read or used. And if that happens, you run the risk of mistakes being made, poor customer service, and non-compliance with legislation or industry regulations. All of which are damaging and costly for your business.

Are your SOPs too long?

One of the key problems is that Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) are too long. This deters users from reading them and makes it hard for them to find relevant information.

There are two main reasons for this. One is that writers include a lot of content “just in case”. As a result, SOPs become lengthy and unfocussed. As an example, I recently worked on an SOP that began with six pages of definitions. When I queried the need for them, my client agreed that the intended audience for the document would know the definitions, and – if they were unsure – they would know where to look them up. So those six pages of definitions were removed, and the document began with an overview of the process instead.

The second reason for SOPs being too long is that writers tend to include too much detail. SOPs are not intended to take the place of training your staff. They are there to ensure that everyone follows a consistent, compliant process.

Why does this happen?

So what’s the cause of these problems? Often it’s that the people who write these documents haven’t been given the skills to write them. This type of technical writing is less about crafting sentences (as we were taught at school), and more about thinking about the audience for the document and their needs.

How can we fix it?

At TP3 our solution is to begin with a thorough analysis of what’s required. We focus first of all on the purpose and scope of the SOP, and what the audience needs to know. And we use a research-based structured writing approach to develop SOPs. This ensures that the information is complete and consistent and that it’s chunked in a way that makes it easy for different readers to find the information they need easily, and act on it correctly.

TP3 has been helping clients with their documentation for over 20 years. We offer training in Writing Policies and Procedures, as well as consulting services to help write your documentation. If you’d like to know more, please us on 1300 658 388.

 

 

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