SOP Writing Guidelines: How to Write Effective SOPs

Whilst many businesses understand the need for SOPs, they often struggle with the best ways to approach them. Here some SOP writing guidelines to get you started.
sop-writing-guidelines

SOP Writing Guidelines

Whilst many businesses understand the need for SOPs, they often struggle with the best ways to approach them. At Whale, we specialize in helping businesses simplify and modernize their training approach and materials.

Here are some SOP writing guidelines to get you started. Most importantly these guidelines will help you ensure they are fit for purpose and stand the test of time.

So what makes an effective SOP? Let’s start from the beginning.

What are SOPs?

Standard Operating Procedures, or SOPs, are easy-to-understand documents that create process workflows for performing defined tasks.

This could refer to various procedures within a business, such as onboarding new employees or clients. They can also include managing worklists and tasks, or tracking project deliverables.

Having effectively developed SOPs in your business creates increased efficiency and, therefore, profitability.

Documentation also reduces the risk of errors in your procedures and a standardized consistency in your clients’ products and services.

Why do we need SOPs?

SOPs can benefit your business in several ways, especially during periods of growth. Well-written SOPs will provide you with an increased organizational and operational advantage, including in areas such as:

  • Reducing the time taken to train your staff
    Whether this is just for onboarding new staff or upskilling and developing existing staff, internal SOPs offer the ability to standardize and improve the training process. This ensures everyone gets the same information and opportunity to progress.
  • Reduce errors in procedures and processes
    Well-structured SOPs provide your staff with easy-to-follow guidelines, which, when followed, ensure a productive and operational workforce.
  • Ensure legal requirements are followed
    Your industry may require written SOPs with clear guidance around legal requirements, meaning that your employees and/or customers are aware of their obligations and cannot be held legally responsible if something were to go wrong.
  • Maintain a consistent brand
    Your brand is one of the most valuable assets your business has, and it’s essential to protect it. Providing clear SOPs around your brand guidelines can advise your staff on areas such as the correct use of logos, colors, and fonts. You can also include policies for how they should correspond with those outside the business, guidelines for email formatting, and sticking to the brand tone of voice in all communications.

When you create clear and concise SOPs, you’re helping to ensure that the output from your business is consistent and predictable. This gives your team the best opportunity to work effectively within their role.

What are effective SOP writing guidelines to ensure that SOPs are effective?

When writing SOPs for your business, it’s essential always to remember who they’re being written for – the end-user.

Ensuring they are easy to understand and make sense to the person reading them is crucial to ensuring they are fit for purpose.

Here are a few things to bear in mind when writing your procedures:

  • Use clear and simple language:
    Your SOPs need to be written in a way that takes the reader on a straightforward, step-by-step process from start to finish. Use simple language without any ambiguous terminology.
  • Break your document up into logical steps
    Breaking your document up under logical headers and sections will help the reader follow it and retain the knowledge you’re providing.
  • Make the crucial points evident to the reader
    If there are any critical pieces of information that the reader must know, make sure these aren’t hidden within the text, and there is no confusion over their purpose.
  • Keep your SOPs updated
    SOPs should be live documents that are updated as your internal processes and procedures are developed. Make sure you schedule regular reviews to ensure they remain fit for purpose.

SOP writing guidelines for formatting

Whale-SOP-Example

We think the best way to structure your SOP is:

Header

A brief but clear title identifying your activity and any relevant keywords, plus your version number.

Purpose

Use this section to define the intent of your document clearly and concisely.

Scope

This section will outline what is in scope for the document and what is not in scope. Ensure that nothing is left up to interpretation and that the reader has no doubt what the document will provide them with.

Definitions

Make sure that any terms which may not be familiar to the reader are defined – this includes abbreviations or industry terms.

Roles & Responsibilities

Clearly outline the roles responsible for carrying out the procedure outlined in the document.

Procedure

Make sure you only include steps required for the procedure to be appropriately maintained. It may help break it down into easy-to-follow sections that can be quickly followed and checked off as the reader goes through the document.

Appendices

Use this section to assist your reader in understanding the process, potentially with visual aids such as diagrams and process flows.

Version control

Keep a record of any changes made to the document over time, including why you made the changes.

Sign-offs

If your document requires sign-off from any particular business area, keep this at the back of the document so that the reader is assured that it has been approved as fit for purpose.

SOP Writing Guidelines and Different types of SOPs

Whale SOPs

The way write your SOPs will also depend on the area of the business you’re creating documentation for. In addition, the types of SOPs you’ll create for your business will vary depending on your industry. However, some of the most common areas to implement include:

Sales & Marketing

This will usually cover guidance on how the business presents itself in external communications, such as social media, press releases, or advertising campaigns. It can also extend to preparing sales quotes, service delivery processes, response times, and resolution of refunds/exchanges and complaints.

Finance

Finance SOPs can define processes within billing and collecting and accounts payable. This can help provide clear instruction to clients and increase cashflow within the business.

Employee Onboarding

Bringing in new staff members can be a time-consuming procedure. However, having clear SOPs in place will ensure a straightforward and pain-free process for both you and your new employee. These can be put in place for building job descriptions, inductions and training, performance reviews, and corrective action.

One of the most common SOPs you will encounter is your privacy policy. In line with regulations, your business must have a clear and explicit policy that specifies what information you will collect from your clients, what you will use the data for, and how long you will keep it on file.

It’s crucial to ensure that everyone within your business, especially those who are customer-facing, is aware of your data policies and what customer information they need to fulfill their role.

How can Whale help me build effective SOPs?

We hope these SOP writing guidelines have been helpful to get you on the right path to writing effective SOPs for your business. At Whale, we do however understand that the process can be time-consuming.

We’ve built our technology to assist businesses in simplifying their documentation process, deliver information to staff in bite-sized chunks when they need it and understand it best.

Ready for a digital SOP strategy your teams will love? 

Download our complimentary Ultimate Guide to SOP and Knowledge Management

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