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How to Write Policies and Procedures for Your Business

Instructions and tips for writing policies for a company, business, or organization.

Instructions and tips for writing policies for a company, business, or organization.

So what is a "policy and procedure"? Simply put, it's step-by-step instructions for how to do something in your organization. It could be something general (like employee guidelines or expectations), or it could be instructions (like how to complete a specific job or task). Either way, a policy and procedure can get those ideas down on paper for everyone to see and follow.

How to Write a Policy

In order to guide you in writing your own company's policies and procedures, this article will cover the following:

  • What to include in a policy and procedure (headers, page numbers, titles, etc.)
  • How to format a formal policy (fonts and formatting on the page)
  • An example for you to use as a model
  • Tips and FAQ
  • The pros and cons of using a policy and procedure

What to Include in a Policy and Procedure

  • Header - This should include the name of your organization, the department, etc. This will identify who the procedure is intended for.
  • Title - The title of the procedure. Try not to make this too long. Make it easy to remember and refer to.
  • Procedure Number - This is for easy reference as well. This allows procedures to be in a certain order in a book, binder, online database, etc. Not only should they be in numerical order, but there should also be equal spacing between the numbers (i.e. 100, 105, 110, etc.).
  • Effective Date - The date that the procedure was first made effective. This can be important in trying to establish a timeline for a certain job task.
  • Revised Date - If changes were made to the procedure at one point, then this date needs to be changed to the date the procedure was revised. This is a record of changes and keeps everyone up-to-date on them.
  • Reviewed Date - If the procedure was reviewed to see if any changes need to be made, then this date needs to be updated. It doesn't matter if no changes were made, this date should be updated to show when it was last reviewed.
  • Authorized By - Name of the person who authorized the release of the policy and procedure. This would be a department head or supervisor.
  • Policy - This section should go into the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the policy. However, it should be brief. It should be an overview of why the policy is in effect.
  • Directive - If something has to be done or if there is an overall instruction that the reader must follow, this should be in the directive. Don't include this unless there is something critical that has to be noticed or handled straight away.
  • Procedure - This will go explain the majority of your policy and procedure and provide the itemized steps for accomplishing what the policy dictates.
  • Page Number - There should be a page number on each page.
  • Page Headers - The page headers should include the title and procedure number of the policy and procedure.
  • Initials - This should be the initials of the last person who reviewed the policy and procedure. It should also include the date when it was last reviewed.
  • Examples - These will be on separate pages that won't have a header, page numbers, etc. These are examples of what is being described at important steps in the procedure.

How to Format a Policy and Procedure

There are a few basic rules when it comes to writing a policy and procedure:

  • Font - The font should be one commonly used and recognized, one that's considered professional. Times New Roman is professional, and Comic Sans is considered unprofessional.
  • Font Size - You shouldn't have a large font size used throughout the procedure. It should always be consistent from procedure to procedure.
  • Colors - Colors aren't really necessary. The procedure should be on a white background with a black font. However, colors can be used in examples.
  • Spacing - The procedure part should be spaced appropriately for easy reading. If there are no spaces between steps, then the text will run together when someone reads the policy.
  • Margins - These should be made at whatever the standard in your organization is for other documents. This makes users more inclined to read and use the procedure.

Below are the recommended styling requirements for each of the categories I listed above.

  • Header - The header should always be centered, bold, in all capital letters, and at the very top of the policy. It should also have the largest-sized font compared with the rest of the text on the page.
  • Title and Procedure Number - Both of these should be on the same line since they are both used for reference. These can be the same size or slightly smaller than the header but should be bold and in all capital letters, as well. The title should be on the far left, with the procedure number on the far right.
  • Effective, Revised, and Reviewed Date - I have seen these done in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are in their own column, while other times, I have seen them in their own row. It's a personal preference, but they should always be below the title and have a small font size. Just like the previous categories, these should be bolded and capitalized.
  • Authorized By - This can be the last line in the upper portion of the policy and procedure. This should be bolded, capitalized, and situated on the far left side of the document.
  • Policy - There should be something to indicate that the policy starts at this point. Typically, you can make the word "policy" in all capital letters and in bold, while the policy itself is explained not in bold letters or capitalized. You will want to justify the text on the document, as well.
  • Directive - This is something you want to highlight, so it will be in bold and in all capital letters. Justify the paragraph.
  • Procedure - This is the hardest part to explain because it is so detailed. Basically, you will want to separate your steps as much as possible. You don't want paragraphs of information; you want simple-to-follow text, so break it up visually by using different kinds of lists at different indentations. For example, A.1.i.a., each at a different indentation than the one before it. However, when moving on to the "B," it has to be the same indentation as the "A" before it. The image below shows an example of this.
  • Page Number - Numbers should be centered in the footer of the document. Either include just the number for each page or show the current and the total number of pages (i.e. Page 1 of 2). The first page doesn't have to have a page number on it.
  • Page Headers - The page headers on each page after the first should look the same.
  • Initials - At the end of each procedure, the person reviewing/revising should include their initials and the date they last reviewed/revised it.
  • Examples - These are separate from the procedure being written. They can include screenshots from a program, tables to refer to, etc. In the upper-right-hand corner, each example should be named (i.e. Example A). Then, at the relevant point in the procedure, the example should be referred to (i.e., see Example A).

Best Font to Use for Policy and Procedure

There are four fonts I recommend:

  1. Arial - This font is considered the industry standard for most documents. A lot of computers default to this font, and it is easy to read. You can never go wrong with this font.
  2. Times New Roman - Another industry standard. It is also used as the default font for some computer programs. Some people consider this an old style that the first generation of computer users recognize.
  3. Calibri - For a softer approach, you can go with this font. It's easy on the eyes and smooths out the look of a document. Since policy and procedure can be boring to read and write, this could be one of the better fonts to use.
  4. Georgia - This is an uncommonly used font, but one that can jump out at you. I consider it a cross between Arial and Times New Roman.

I wouldn't use any font that is too difficult to read or looks unprofessional. No one will take the policy and procedure seriously if an unprofessional font is used.

Policy Example

how-to-write-policies-and-procedures
how-to-write-policies-and-procedures
An example of a policy and procedure.

An example of a policy and procedure.

Formatting Used in Example Above

This table covers the formatting I used in the above example. The font used is Arial and the text is defaulted on the let side unless specified otherwise.

ContentFormat

Header

14 pt., Bold, Center

Title

14 pt., Bold

Procedure Number

14 pt., Bold

Dates

12 pt., Bold, Center

Authorized By

12 pt., Bold, Center

Policy

12 pt., "Policy" is bold, Justified

Directive

12 pt., Bold, Justified

Procedure

12 pt., Justified

Page Number

10 pt., Center

Page Header

12 pt., Bold

Initials

12 pt.

Tips for Writing Business Policies

  • Review the procedures often. Just because you write a procedure doesn't mean it's over. You need to periodically go back to review your procedure for any updates or changes. Some recommend reviewing them every few years, but I like to review them each year, if possible. When something does change in the organization that affects a procedure, the policy and procedure should be changed right away.
  • Have the procedure reviewed before it's made available. Have a few people review the procedure to verify that it makes sense. Include new employees as well as experienced ones in this process because they can both ask questions you may not have anticipated. If you have a regular committee that reviews procedures, that's even better.
  • Have everyone confirm they reviewed the procedure once it's released. Once I finish writing or revising a procedure, I send it to all my staff. They sign and date it after they review it. I also e-mail staff to advise them of changes made to a policy and procedure. This way, I have documentation that I notified everyone. In large organizations, this should be handled by supervisors at the team or section level.
  • Make a table of contents. If you end up developing a lot of policies and procedures, develop a table of contents to make it easy to locate a specific policy.
  • Allow for some wiggle room in a procedure. Staff shouldn't be expected to follow policy and procedure to the letter. It should serve as a guide to get the job done. As long as no errors were committed and no laws broken, then some leeway can be allowed when following a procedure.
  • Keep the procedure as short as possible. Don't include every scenario or situation that could come up. If something only happens once a year, why develop a procedure on it? That could best be served in a memo or e-mail.
  • Verify that you are not breaking any rules or laws in a procedure. In large organizations, you may have to verify you are not putting the employer or employee in harm's way when developing a procedure. If necessary, include the legal basis for why a policy and procedure was developed in the policy portion of the procedure.
  • Google it. Before you start writing a policy, search online to see if any other organizations have written a similar policy. Don't plagiarize their procedure, but read it and create yours based on the ideas you find.

Rule A: Don't.

Rule A1: Rule A doesn't exist.

Rule A2: Do not discuss the existence or non-existence of Rules A, A1 or A2.

— R. D. Laing

The Pros of Using Policy and Procedure

  • Allows for a uniform way to do things. Not having a policy and procedure in place could allow for people to do things any way they want. They could make missteps or cause errors in the process. A policy and procedure solves that problem.
  • Eliminates the need to ask questions. As a supervisor, I constantly get questions from my staff. Now that our policy and procedure is fully updated, I can just point them there to find answers.
  • Holds employees accountable. If done correctly, the use of policy and procedure can hold your staff accountable to a specific standard. They can't say they weren't aware of something or that there is nothing for them to refer to. With policy and procedure, it keeps staff aware of what is expected of them.
  • Great for training new employees. When I get a new employee, I spend the first day or two working closely with them. I show them the bulk of the job, but then I walk away. The one thing I leave them with is policy and procedure. As they develop questions, I direct them to that procedure. They learn about the job and where to go if they have questions. Plus, this frees me up to do my job.
  • Helps with goal-setting. The great thing about having job duties in writing is that it can set goals for your staff. The procedure can outline what has to be done and when it has to be done. Staff can treat that as a goal to reach to get promotions, earn raises, etc.

The Cons of Using Policy and Procedure

  • Stifles creativity. Staff can feel as if they have no freedom in decision-making. They won't think outside of the box or find new, creative solutions to a problem if they feel they always have to follow a set procedure. I always tell my staff that procedures are meant to be guidelines, not hard and fast rules. As long as you reach the goal successfully, the how doesn't matter.
  • Requires constant updating, which can be time-consuming. Whenever something changes, someone has to go back to the policy to revise it. When a new job duty arises, someone has to write up the procedure on how to do it. It's a very time-consuming process. Each week, I deal with updating, reviewing, or planning out how to update a policy and procedure.
  • It can stunt the growth of an organization. A policy and procedure can take on a life of its own. Staff may feel that it has always been done this way, so why try to change it? It can prevent change in an organization if someone has a document that states something has always been done a certain way.
  • Employees can interpret a step in a procedure in multiple ways. Someone may read a step one way, while another can read it a different way, and the writer of the procedure may have meant something completely different. Written words are open to interpretation. So when a procedure is developed—especially a lengthy one—there should be some verbal communication about it.
  • They are boring to write. I have spent multiple days in a row writing and revising procedures. It can be a very long and drawn-out process, so it's not the most exciting thing about my job. And if it's boring, you are more apt to make mistakes, which is why having multiple people check the policy after any revisions is important.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 David Livermore

Comments

charles on March 14, 2019:

great job ever

David Livermore (author) from Bakersfield, California, United States on November 18, 2014:

I hope this hub proves useful for you then. Thank you!

Janice Horner on November 18, 2014:

Hi David, I found your hub very interesting. I work in middle management and we have a company handbook full of policies for different procedures. Some of them I feel are necessary to keep focused on what is required from an employee. Others I feel should be updated or competed re-written!

I have booked marked your page because if I ever need to write a policy you have provided a template full of information. Great hub, voted up!

SAQIB from HYDERABAD PAKISTAN on November 16, 2014:

Common tips, easily narrated. Keep UP

Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on November 15, 2014:

This is an excellent outline of how to structure a business. It's very informative and useful, even for a small business. I have a small counseling practice and wrote out a "policies and procedures" document I send to all new clients. This gives me some tips to use as I look it over for refinement and inclusion of things I may have looked over. Thank you, davidlivermore for this tutorial. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

shuaib from nigeria on November 14, 2014:

thanks for this insight article

David Ortega from Altoona, Iowa on November 13, 2014:

Nice job. I write a lot of technical policies and procedures. Correct font selection is certainly important. I would add that Times New Roman or fonts WITH serifs are easier on the eye than fonts sans (without) serifs like Areal.

Dilip Chandra from India on November 12, 2014:

Good information and the tutorial is helpful.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on November 11, 2014:

Hi David. Congratulations on your presentation. Your hub is greatly informative, research time must have been extensive, and it shows. Tip Top.

Voted up and all.

Graham.