Writing good standard operating procedures has a lot to do with how you use verbs. If you’ve got verb power then you are on your way to writing a good procedure. So what is verb power anyway?
Power to the Verbs!
Verbs are the most powerful words in the English language, perhaps any language. A verb is the only word required in a sentence. Stop. Think. Go. Look. Really? Wait. Yes. Ok, “really” is really an adverb (a verb modifier), but you get the point. You can use a verb to make a one word sentence.
Your procedures should be written in imperative sentences. What does that mean? It means your procedures are made of tasks that you want someone to follow. An imperative is where we are expressing a command. Procedures are step-by-step descriptions that are not optional, they are imperative, as in commanding your workers to do something specific.
For example, The Payroll Manager issues paychecks.
Either the Payroll Manager does or does not, it’s not an option. If it is an option then we need to qualify who issues paychecks. Otherwise, it is management’s decision that the Payroll Manager is the one that issues the paychecks. Hence, the payroll procedure includes this imperative.
A good standard operating procedure (SOP) uses good verbs. The idea is to find a verb that answers the question: “What is the procedure task accomplishing?” Are you documenting, recording, analyzing, approving, opening, closing, managing or measuring?
What are good verbs to use in a Standard Operating Procedure?
- Writes / reviews
- Documents / records
- Starts / completes
- Plans / maintains
- Analyzes / inspects
- Designs / programs
- Negotiates / approves
- Forecasts / balances
- Estimates / calculates
- Collects / distributes
- Opens / closes
- Manages / measures
Of course there are a lot more verbs you can use with procedures, but this is a start…
Start Your SOPs with Verbs
Procedures are made of a series of activities and each activity is comprised of a series of tasks. Each activity is a label that groups the steps together. The tasks are your steps you want someone to follow to accomplish the activity.
An example procedure:
Activity One – Planning, preparation or setup
Activity Two – Perform, execute, or realize
Activity Three – Complete, review, or cleanup
Tasks should be organized in subject verb object order. We call this “Active Voice”. It’s active because we are using a direct style as opposed to a passive voice or indirect. Notice that the verb is right up front with the subject. We want the reader to see themselves right away so they know this task is about them. The verb is prominently display and is in a commanding position.
Verbs are your most effective procedure writing tools. If the beginning of your procedure tasks don’t grab the reader and pull them into the procedure activity, then your procedure tasks will be unread and not followed. The beginning of your procedure tasks, powered by good SOP verbs, will make or break your procedures.
Give Your SOPs Verb Power
If you are writing a lot of procedures then it is a good idea to collect good SOP verbs you can use to drive your reader to action. Don’t be passive, use an active voice and select verbs that command your reader. Now you know how to use verb power!
See how to use verbs in action… download a free sample policy and procedure now.