The purpose of a standard operating procedure is to provide written instructions on how to complete activities consistently.  Procedures also fulfill an FDA and ISO requirement, but if they aren’t effective, they can contribute to quality and compliance issues, along with business inefficiencies.

6 Rules To Follow When Writing Standard Operating Procedures:  

Include Enough Details – Your procedures should include enough details that a person could complete the activities consistently and you should not see variation from person-to-person or shift-to-shift.  However, if you intentionally decide to make your procedures vague for auditing purposes, then you’ll need to supplement the procedure with instructor-led training to ensure consistency.  

Write Clearly – Your procedures should be written clearly and at a level that anyone can understand, regardless if you’re knowledgeable on the process or not.  It’s typically recommended that procedures be written at an eighth-grade level (take a look at the Wall Street Journal).

Define Acronyms – Never assume that your reader understands your use of acronyms.  Spell them out to avoid any misunderstandings.  This is especially true for new hires, since each company may use the same acronyms with different meanings. 

Get To The Point – Keep your procedures short and to the point.  Any procedure that rambles on provides very little value and will cause confusion. 

Include Process Maps – Include a process map at the end of each procedure for several reasons.  Some people are visual learners and would benefit from the graphical interpretation of the procedure.  Also, a process map will help you avoid illogical steps, infinite loops or premature dead ends, all of which isn’t noticeable with just text.  Actually, the best way to write a procedure is to first create a process map, then write the text to align with the process map. 

Evaluate Effectiveness – Always evaluate the effectiveness of your procedures by taking an in-depth look at nonconformance’s potentially related to effectiveness, such as:  Human errors involving the same procedure, people not following procedures, and inadequate training.  You should also look for trends that include shift variation, all of which could be symptoms of an underlying problem with the effectiveness of your procedures.

Sandra Gauvin is the author of a monthly newsletter that offers helpful tips and smart strategies regarding Quality Assurance practices and Continuous Quality Improvements. Visit to sign-up for the FREE Current Quality Newsletter. When you subscribe, you’ll receive a 23 page special report ‘Boost Your Quality AND Operational Performance By Following These 3 Simple Rules’.