Standard operating procedures (SOP) and work instructions are intended to improve employees’ working routines. Unfortunately, documents of this type are rarely drafted with this purpose in mind. However, it is essential to design them with a focus on the users of the documents, their daily tasks, and their working environments, while maintaining compliance with production and safety standards. The information must be complete, accurate and easy to understand in order to prevent human error.
Many work instructions provide too much technical detail. Even though it is always useful to include some detail, not everyone needs to know every last detail. It has been proven that our brain ignores certain information that it considers unnecessary. Take the same approach to writing operating procedures and work instructions and leave out details that are excessively technical.
Leave out details that are excessively technical in your work instructions.
The text that describes work instructions is sometimes too complicated, with terms that are expressed in language that is too technical. These texts must be written in a clear and concise tone so that everyone can understand them. Avoid using jargon as much as possible: choose simple words instead.
Sometimes, a picture says a thousand words. At work, a task can be easier to understand if it is described in images, rather than described in a long and complex piece of text. In other terms: choose simplicity and visual appeal.
Procedures are often written by engineers and are more like a description of the features of the machine than instructions enabling the user to perform tasks safely and with confidence. Improve your employees’ experience by having instructions written by writers who can put themselves in the workers’ shoes.
Employees need to get the right information at the right time. In the design phase, think about the best way to distribute instructions to your users at an early stage. Does this mean making instructions accessible offline, displaying them on the screen of a machine, providing a QR code or using NFC? An employee performing a task for the first time will need to access step-by-step instructions while doing so, at the place where the task is to be performed.
Learning about what an operation involves is not always enough to understand the context of the task — especially in more complex cases. Users must start with a full understanding of the context. Instructions, when properly designed, become crucial element of the training system, enabling employees to immerse themselves in their working environment. Your instructions must be integrated into your internal training systems such as LMS, E-learning, Mooc, or face-to-face training.
Instructions, when properly designed, become crucial element of the training system.
Your employees must be able to share their feedback, questions or suggestions for improvement. More experienced users will be able to offer useful and important information on existing operating procedures. Monitor the feedback that you receive to ensure your instructions are updated continuously. Choosing the right procedure documentation solution can help in achieving ISO 9001 certification and implementing your quality management system.
If you want to go further, refer to J.M. Carroll’s work on minimalism in technical writing, consult the DOKIT team’s 10 tips for writing high-quality technical documentation and the Tips on How to give instructions by Userfocus