What advice do we have to give about writing procedures? Most importantly – employ revision in the policy process. The policy writing process considers activities that successful writers engage in while producing a piece of writing, and it applies whether one is writing an essay, a business letter, or a procedure. These writing activities are typically divided into three steps or phases — Planning, Drafting, and Revising. What is revision in the policy process?
Why Do We Need a Revision Stage?
Once a draft of the Standard Operating Procedure or SOP is completed, the revision stage begins. Obviously, the revising step means looking for errors. Recall while drafting we talked about not being obsessed about errors and perfect writing — such concerns can actually inhibit drafting. But revision is more than just looking for errors; it is about truly crafting the document.
An Iterative Approach to Procedure Revising
A frequently recommended way to tackle the SOP revision stage is to perform several iterations, starting with the big picture and working down to the smaller details. By big picture we mean reviewing the document’s format, appearance, and organization. Are there any issues with margins, spacing, headings, or other accouterments like pages numbers and proper information in headers and footers that need correcting or adding?
Paying attention to organization means paying attention to how topics are covered. Are all topics covered in the appropriate detail? Are they in the proper order? Is anything missing? Other things to look for at this level is appropriate and correct information in the title block, proper references, and ensure associated forms and work instructions are clearly indicated.
Revise Sentences to Be Clear and Concise
After addressing big picture issues, next, reviewing details means closely reading and editing the procedure document at the sentence level. The goal should be to write in the most direct way possible, and that means clear and concise sentences. It should be understandable like editing a blog post.
Here are some things to consider in order to write direct sentences:
Revise Unnecessary Words
Frequently writing, particularly technical writing, is verbose (not concise) and stilted. It should be a regular editing exercise to eliminate as many words as possible from a sentence while still conveying its intended meaning. For example, after eliminating unneeded words a sentence like, “It would seem to me that the indications are that the project has been essentially unsuccessful” becomes a much more direct sentence: “It seems that the project was unsuccessful.”
Be sure subject and verbs are not obscure. Subjects and verbs should usually (there are very few hard and fast rules to writing) be clearly stated early in the sentence. If you cannot easily spot the subject and verb, the sentence is likely not very clear. Having a clear subject and verb (along with some word elimination) transforms confusing sentences.
For example, “Evaluation of the gumming tendency of the four tire types will be accomplished by comparing the amount of rubber that can be scrapped from the tires” into a much more clear and readable “We will evaluate the gumming tendency of the four tire types by comparing the amount of rubber scrapped from the tires.”