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Importance of definitions to the world of writing policies and procedures – Bored? No

Policy and procedure documents and manuals contain several important words and phrases that are often misunderstood by policy and procedure writers. And the way these words are used can change the entire meaning of your policy and procedure documents. Defining these words is an easy task; what makes the task difficult is how the words interact with each other. For example, when is a directive a procedure? And when do you use the word Procedure or the phrase Standard Operating Procedure? Or when a procedure contains guidelines rather than rules? Or when do guidelines become standards or when do standards become guidelines? Do you see the confusion? In reality, the answer to all of these questions depends on your type of industry, your culture, your environment, your users, and of course the content of your policies and procedures.

The most critical definitions for a policy and procedure writer include the following words and phrases:

  1. Politics
  2. Process
  3. Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
  4. guidelines
  5. standards
  6. Delighted
  7. writing format


A POLICY is a predetermined course of action established as a guide towards accepted business strategies and objectives. The intent of the policy could be to establish a mandate, provide strategic direction, or show how management deals with an issue. In general, a policy should include information about what, why and who, but not how. Policies change infrequently and often set the course for the foreseeable future. Policies create expectations and guidelines for action.

The word Policy can also be used to describe legislative and regulatory developments or public policies. And to confuse this even more, colleges and universities tend to think in terms of Institutional Policies. In short, the term Policy can be considered as the tactics, strategies, goals, objectives, plans, rules, schemes or protocols of companies or institutions. For the context of policies and procedures, see a Policy Statement as the basic objectives, goals, vision, attitudes and culture of the company. Think of the policy as the guiding statement for procedures.

While I advocate the use of policy statements within procedure documents, some writers maintain a policy manual with only policy documents, or guiding principles, and a procedure manual with procedures that support the corresponding policy documents.


A PROCEDURE describes how or the method by which a policy can be achieved. Procedures identify the people, places, processes, forms, and all actions necessary to carry out one or more policy statements. Procedures typically contain one or more sentences that describe how to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. Each procedure has an action, a decision and/or a repetitive step.

Where policies can provide guidance for an entire company; Procedures generally have a starting point (initial conditions) and an ending point (goal). Synonyms for procedures can be standard operating procedures, SOPs, departmental operating procedures, DOPs, quality operating procedures, QOPs, or even processes, methods, operations, practices, programs, systems, or schemes.

Think of procedures as a place to show processes from start to finish or A to Z. With the correct writing format, there will be a specific section to outline the sequence of processes from start to finish.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)

Think of procedures as business procedures that provide guidelines to support a business policy. STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, on the other hand, is a set of instructions covering those features or operations that lend themselves to a defined or standardized procedure without loss of effectiveness. Confused? I also think the same. A standard operating procedure is a procedure that speaks of standards that describe routine and repetitive tasks. This term is typically found in military manuals.

Let’s see an example. A business procedure might be how to fill out an expense report for a trip you took from Boston to Miami. While a standard operating procedure describes a set of instructions for assembling a wing on an aircraft. See the difference? The first procedure, a business procedure, contains a sequential method of performing a nonroutine trip that could have any number of variables, while the standard operating procedure contains steps that are repeated over and over each time a new wing is assembled. Each part within the wing assembly will be purchased and/or assembled in the same manner. This is not true for a commercial procedure.


A GUIDELINE is a recommended process that should adhere to a standard have to be followed. A guide provides suggestions; a key difference from a standard is that a guideline is never mandatory. Procedures are made up of guidelines or standards, but rarely both. If the steps of a procedure are required to be exact, then the steps are considered standards, but if the steps of a procedure are only recommended, then the steps are considered guidelines.


A STANDARD is a set of rules that have to be followed without exception, every time. A standard is an approach required to carry out an activity or task. We often hear about standards when we think of standards proposed by organizations or even standards associations like the International Organization for Standards ISO or the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

A standard is a required procedure that reflects a technical requirement, legal duty, or obligation that must be followed. There is obvious use of standards for programming languages, operating systems, data formats, communication protocols, and electrical interfaces.

In the world of policies and procedures, I think most policy and procedure writers will write procedures and guidelines, not procedures and standards, unless there is a specific purpose, such as assembly instructions in a manufacturing environment or in a Military Specification, or Mil-Spec that governs the technical specifications of a product purchased by the US Armed Forces.


The term CONTENT can refer to many different things depending on the context and the audience. For policies and procedures, content refers to the body of the policy or procedure document, that is, everything between the header and footer of the document. Simply put, content is your words, sentences, paragraphs, and writing style.

writing format

A WRITING FORMAT (writing format) is a structured method of presenting the content of policies and procedures in a consistent and logical manner. Think of a writing format as a way to present your policies and procedures in sequence from start to finish. The writing format is at the heart of any system of policies and procedures. Unfortunately, there are some policy and procedure systems that do not use a consistent writing format and thus confusion among users when trying to understand and apply the intent of policy or procedure documents.

Every time I’ve looked at policies and procedures to determine why the current infrastructure is failing and why the current policies and procedures gather dust on a shelf or get lost on a hard drive, the reason often lies in a lack of formatting. of consistent writing that has been approved by senior management. A writing format not only provides structure, it also provides a way to design processes in a meaningful way. The format not only includes the processes, but also the purpose, scope, and responsibilities of those who use the policy or procedure documents.

There are books written on the writing format – I suggest you read them as the writing format is the most important concept to understand in any book on policies and procedures.


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