#107: How to write an effective SOP

Office Operations

In this video, I go over some guidelines for writing an effective SOP and how to write an effective SOP using my 6 P’s:

Hi this is Lisa Wells, welcome to Systems Sunday. Today we’ll do a deep dive of an SOP.

Always remember that SOPs should be written from a purely practical perspective from the point-of-view from those who will actually use them. Here are some simple yet important guidelines to keep in mind to write an end-user-focused SOP.

• Write concisely, clearly, and follow a step-by-step format

Keep sentences as brief as possible and use simple, common terms. Never obfuscate the meaning of an instruction by using overly technical or jargon-filled terminology when a simpler, clearer word or phrase communicates the same idea.

• Write in the active voice and present the main idea first

Be mindful of what you write as well as how you write it. Simple action-oriented verbs such as “identify,” “direct,” “evaluate,” and “review” get the point across without requiring interpretation. If at all possible, do not use the passive voice when structuring sentences as this has been shown to confuse and misdirect attention away from important ideas.

• Stay away from ambiguity

Always avoid using generalized terms that give no tangible meaning. Words like “periodic” “typical” “general” and “should” do not enforce any consistent direction or execution of a directive — the main goal of having an SOP in the first place.

• Be careful around important terms

The main terms here are “may,” “must,” and “should.” Remember that using the word “may” gives personnel decision-making power and/or flexibility depending on the context. “Must,” is always mandatory and “should” is by nature conditional.

• Make smart use of formatting

If your SOPs consist of long, dense paragraphs, chances are there’s a better formatting scheme to follow. Bulleted items and lists are particularly effective for certain pieces of information as they focus attention and slow the reader’s pace.


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