Writing Policies and The Approval Process
Today, we will discuss How to Write a Policy Manual Chapter 3 “Writing Policies and The Approval Process” Write, Edit, Re-Write, Edit, Re-Write
- Chapter 1: Why Develop a Policy Manual
- Chapter 2: Getting Started
- Chapter 3: Writing Policies and the Approval Process
- Chapter 4: Distributing New Policies
A good policy manual is the result of many hours of thinking, analyzing, researching, writing and re-writing. Do not expect to write your manual on the first attempt. Even though you may have a terrific understanding of your business processes, mission, and objectives and believe you can communicate policies clearly, good writing is the result of a recursive process. You need to go through
the circular process of writing, editing, and re-writing until your manual meets the needs of the staff of your organization.
Once you write the first draft, put the manual aside for awhile. Most writers find that if they give the manual a break they can come back to it with a fresh set of eyes. While re-examining the first draft, you may see flaws that you missed the first time. You may see that some rearrangement and editing is needed. After you edit and print a second draft, have someone else proofread it. Find a proofreader
who understands your organization’s mission and who can empathize with the needs of the staff that will refer to the policy. Then act on
their recommendations. Keep at it till you are sure you have it right. You may have only one chance to make a great impression on your reader. Therefore, work hard and take the time to prepare a well- written and attractive document.
Clarity, Conciseness, and Coherence
Clear writing does not just happen. You must make it happen! When you edit polices, make changes that promote the three Cs: clarity, conciseness, and coherence. Anyone who is reading a policy manual wants it simple and straightforward. Most serious policy manual readers will want to read the document quickly. Clarity is extremely important.
Clear writing is understandable and easy to read. If your writing has clarity, your reader will immediately grasp your meaning; he or she
will not have to stop and figure out your meaning. Be clear and direct. Make every word advance your meaning. Weed out unnecessary words. Delete redundancies, needless phrases, overblown phrases, and clichés. For your policy to be clear and for subsequent
procedures to be exact, each and every policy that you write should contain accurate and complete information expressed concisely.
Coherence is about good logic, linking sentences, and discernable threads of thought. Coherent writing will lead the reader through your policy manual. It lets you give a guided tour of your policy model.
Policy manual readers look for coherent thought and logic. You should evaluate coherence in your manual. Look at your sentences and how they make up your paragraphs. Do your sentences help weave a good story or are they random thoughts that do not link well with the other sentences and paragraphs? Are the sentences in each paragraph unified? Do your sentences and paragraphs communicate your message in a clear and logical way? Your policy manual will be coherent if the relationships between the sentences in each
paragraph are clear and logical and the links or relationships between paragraphs and sections are readily apparent.
Write for Your Reader
Who will read your policies? A variety of people may need to review the policies contained in your manual. Certainly, management should read polices that you write. Your hope is that the staff will also
become familiar with your policies as they carry out their every-day activities. Sometimes auditors – internal and external – need to read policy to assure that it is being followed. A compliance audit often begins with a review of policy and then the audit team conducts tests to determine compliance. For example, federal bank examiners often review the lending policy of a bank to assure that loan officers are following bank policy on every loan or credit card they grant. Anyone can see how it is critical that a loan policy meet the needs of loan officers, management, auditors, and even the federal bank
A thorough analysis of your readers’ needs before you write is critical. Think about the information you need to convey to the staff of the organization and anticipate questions your reader might have after reviewing your manual. The answers to those questions should then be incorporated into the first draft of the manual.
Professional Writing Style
The critical factors in policy writing just like other forms of writing are: organization, a professional writing style, and proper grammar. However, as you customize the manual writing style and grammar are your responsibility.
Here are some tips on writing style:
- Keep your writing simple. Do not use inflated language. Don’t make the ordinary seem extraordinary by using big words. Don’t obscure meaning by using unfamiliar words and phrases. That approach can frustrate the staff that needs to know exactly the meaning of the policy. When it comes to writing the policy, it’s best to strive for simplicity.
- Use jargon judiciously. Jargon is sometimes good because it offers professionals, like accountants and lawyers, a precise and efficient way to communicate with one another. However, if a reader of your policy is not familiar with the jargon, your meaning will be obscured. Some professionals, especially those with a military or law enforcement background, should guard against the use of jargon from those fields in the corporate or non-profit world. Similarly, policies authored by technical professionals may contain too much “techno speak” for the lay end user.
- Use conservative business language free from typographical errors and misspellings. Pretest the policy before you submit it to the ultimate readers. Part of the approval process of a policy should help with this requirement. More on that later. Find some reviewers who possess the valuable mix of English proficiency and good business judgment. Solicit constructive criticism.
Make It Look Good
Take plenty of time to make the policy look really good, if not stunning. Appearance and presentation are important; they make statements about you and your company. You need to put your best foot forward in every company communication. The entire policy manual should look professional. The formatting and page styles provided by the software should make every page look stunning. However, as you add new content and revise your policy manual, you want to make sure it looks good. Look at every page for appropriate use of charts, tables, white space, and formatting. Find the right balance of text, numbers, charts, and tables. A policy that is cluttered with too many charts, tables, pictures, and diagrams can lose its edge. And remember all the visual elements of a policy are for naught if you do not use a good printer.
To assure a professional package, only a high-quality printer will do. A laser or inkjet printer is a prerequisite to business policy preparation.
There is another important reason to pay attention to the design of your policy manual. You want the layout, style, design, and presentation to appeal to the reader and make reading easy. Long paragraphs, crowded pages, poor use of white space, and poor print quality all discourage the reader. Techniques like bullet points, photographs, illustrations, graphs, and charts make your message easier to convey. They also grab attention and allow the reader to move faster through the policy. Crowding a page with information will either intimidate or annoy the reader.
Here is a list of tips to help you create a great looking policy (printed) manual:
– Use high quality paper.
– Ensure all printed pages are crisp and clean.
– Achieve good balance between text and visuals (charts, graphs, and tables).
– Use photographs effectively.
– Use illustrations effectively.
– Use bullet points to offset information from the text.
– Use white space effectively.
– Provide an appealing cover for the policy manual.
– Include a letter from the top executive or owner of the organization (i.e., Letter from the President)
– Include professional binding.
– Prepare a PDF version for electronic distribution.6
REVIEW AND APPROVAL PROCESS
Every organization that develops policies needs a review process. Some organizations form committees that review proposed policies and policy revisions and after committee approval the policy either takes effect or is submitted to a higher committee – like a board of directors, trustees, officers, or the CEO for final approval.7 Other organizations utilize a policy review process whereby staff (users of the policy) perform a review followed by a management review before submission to a committee and or senior officials. The staff review is basically a solicitation of comment and feedback. It is a step in the process where ideas are needed to help improve the policy.
Someone or perhaps a policy committee must coordinate the review and the submission of drafts to appropriate staff. The policy coordinator requests that the draft document be reviewed and returned by a deadline date with comments included. Here are four possible forms of policy review feedback:
1. The draft seems fine with no further comments.
2. In general the draft seems fine with a few minor exceptions.
3. The draft policy is unacceptable and needs significant changes to be effective.
4. No opinion.
Hopefully feedback like number 4 (no opinion) will be rare because improvements to policy can only happen with constructive feedback from staff.
Source: OfficeReady Policy Manual