Updated May 28, 2023.
Whether writing an SOP for compliance, completing a health and safety manual, or even documenting a process for greater efficiency, knowing how to write an SOP correctly is crucial to your success using it.
What is an SOP?
A standard operating procedure is a documented, tested, and approved process for completing a specific task. The standard operating procedure, or SOP as often referred to, is a means of standardizing workplace practices for a uniform and anticipated outcome.
Let’s look at how to write an effective SOP and the best practices you must follow to achieve the highest success.
“Standard operating procedures are crucial to implementing a system where you can predict results. Without the ability to predict results, you’re operating blind.”J.S., 2023
How to Write a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) – Understanding the Components (With Writing Tips for Each)
To understand how to write an effective SOP, you must understand the component architecture that builds the document. With this in mind, you can download and print your Standard Operating Procedure Template here from us at 1st Reporting.
That way, following along with the essential components will be straightforward. We also describe each element in brief on the page with the download. However, this page has a more in-depth set of steps and descriptions due to being more directly related to the ‘how-to’ process rather than providing the tool.
Without further to-do, let’s dive into the components you must include in your SOP document.
Standard Operating Procedure Inclusions
Looking at a standard operating procedure template, we can see that the document begins with a standard administrative section. This section is self-explanatory, but the focus of the component data here is filing and organization.
1. Purpose of the SOP
To write this section of your SOP, you’ll want to briefly describe why the SOP is needed in the first place. Is it to fulfill compliance with GCP? Is your organization creating a health and safety manual?
For reference purposes, you should identify regulations, procedures, or mandates that reference the purpose section of the document. However, you can include proper citations within an additional references section at the end of the document.
Introduction to the SOP
The introduction to the SOP is a simple, often one or even two-statement section. Include writing your general introduction as well as indicating your mission statement for the SOP.
2. Scope of SOP
Identifying the context, departments, roles, and scope of the standard operating procedure in this section of your SOP document is critical. Team members and others who later read the document must know how the SOP applies. The scope should indicate this extent.
3. Definitions and Procedures
The next section of the SOP is divided into four sub-sections. We’ll detail how you should best address each section.
Depending on the industry, the SOP may or may not use specific words, terminology, or vernacular that may require clarification for the layman. When writing, you should include any of these definitions within this predefined section of the SOP document.
All team members must understand their particular roles and responsibilities. It is vital when the SOP is targeting a process.
The Operating Procedure
When you write out the operating procedure, it’s best to keep in mind that the person reading should be capable of following the process with no prior knowledge of the procedure. The ideal SOP gives clear, concise, and easy-to-understand points or steps to deliver the information in as simple and understandable fashion as possible.
To read some excellent tips for writing your standard operating procedure, look at the tips we put together on the SOP template download page here.
Forms and Templates Required
In many industries, tasks completed require a sign-off, a tracking document, a procedural checklist, or some other form of documentation. Within the SOP, you should include the forms or templates that team members need to accomplish the procedure according to your organization’s standards.
Your SOP will typically have a variety of sources where information has been obtained. You may have both internal and external references as well. You should include any references to legislative or other regulatory statutes about your particular process, as necessary.
5. Change History
Any procedure adopted by a company or organization will change over time. Changes in technology, reporting practices, automation, and many other variables are destined to cross paths with your procedure. That means that revision and ratification are inevitable.
To avoid an entire rewrite every time there’s a required amendment to your standard operating procedure process document; you should include a change history section in your SOP. This section will allow future revisions to the procedure or the relevant information surrounding it to find inclusion in the document.
The final part of your SOP document needs to include an area where management can review and sign off on the SOP.
Standard operating procedures are generally formatted to match organizational branding and in accordance with their health and safety manual and policies. So, if you have role-based operating procedures, they are generally formed similarly to the H & S company manual. You’ll find a variety of formats, depending on the industry, but generally, they fall into one of the four categories listed below.
- Lists, Procedural ‘How-To’s’.
- Long Form Instruction – Typically role-based, but some are more process-oriented.
- Form Template Based – Paper
- Form Template Based – Digital
There’s no perfect type of format that everyone in every industry must follow. Typically, SOPs are documents in point or standard list long-form. The most common types are the list and segmented long-form formats.
Different industries create their SOP documents in various ways. In my experience, I’ve found that the most effective method is to create a mini-booklet manual for each role within an organization. Create standard operating procedures for common processes and any process that involves risk.
You will come across a grey area where the question arises as to whether an SOP should be created. For example, if you have a fleet of service crews, you aren’t going to create an SOP for a meteor strike. Sure, it’s possible, but how probable? Furthermore, crews that operate service vehicles might have an SOP for changing a flat tire on their service truck – a much more reasonable assumption.
In my experience, I have found that performing a job hazard analysis is critical to ascertain the probability of hazards and, by extension, whether or not to create an SOP.
One of the best courses of action is to define potential incidents or hazards by their probability or severity, then create a standard operating procedure generic enough to handle any potential within the group.
We can better manage these documents by segmenting the SOP format and potential severity to create a safe, smooth, and efficient workflow for each role within the organization.
Best Practices For Writing Standard Operating Procedures
Best practices for managers when creating an SOP in their organization include:
- Creating a Mission Statement
- Use clear and concise language when writing the document
- Include tables and graphics to make the document more legible
- Include a work breakdown structure or WBS plan.
- Create a change control process.
- Use a checklist to verify that you’ve met all requirements during implementation.
- Use an SOP template to save time.
- Include an approval memorandum from management to sign off.
- Reference Regulatory Requirements or Industry Standards wherever appropriate.
- Regarding job titles and experience, address your ideal audience in the Scope Description section of the SOP document.
- Ensure all employees understand all sections (definitions, procedures, etc.) when reading through or following the standard operating procedure.
- Use step-by-step instructions and avoid overly complicated language.
- Provide sign-off and reference sections and include the Change History section for future amendments to the SOP document.
Stages of SOP Implementation
- Research and Analysis
- Writing/Drafting the SOP
- Review and Finalizing the SOP
- Training and Awareness
- Management Support and Feedback Collection
- Review and Revision
The ideal SOP implementation process occurs in 8 stages. These stages need consideration if the SOP implementation process is to be successful. Let’s take a quick look at what you need to know about each step in the implementation process.
Research & Analysis
In this stage, you should review all existing procedures and documentation related to your process. You then need to consolidate that information into a single document. In the Research & Analysis phase, consider any relevant industry standards or regulatory requirements that impact the documented process.
The next step is going through a Planning Phase, where you finalize how the standard operating procedure will be formatted and what content it will contain. You can think of this Planning Phase as an overview of your SOP template and its contents, similar to a table of contents in use today.
Writing the Standard Operating Procedure
You begin writing the Standard Operating Procedure in this stage of the SOP implementation process. In this stage, you also start to identify how the document will be organized, any graphics or tables that will support and enhance your content, and of course, you must select a writing style and tone for the SOP document.
Reviewing & Finalizing Your Standard Operating Procedure
The final step in the actual writing of the SOP document occurs in this stage of the process. In this stage, you edit and review your work for accuracy, consistency, completeness, and compliance.
Training & Awareness
This final stage ensures that all members of your team have thoroughly read through the Standard Operating Procedure to ensure their understanding of it. You also want to identify specific training for the SOP document.
When creating a Standard Operating Procedure, you should include a change history section to your SOP. This section will allow future revisions to the procedure or the relevant information surrounding it to find inclusion in the document.
Given that an SOP is generally meant to guide how a team of people should complete a task if your SOP is more than 5 -7 years old, you need to review it and revise the relevant information.
In this stage, all members of your team who will be responsible for implementing the new Standard Operating Procedure must sign off that they have read through and understand the document and its contents.
Your management also needs to sign that they support the Standard Operating Procedure and provide any necessary resources for its implementation.
In this stage of SOP implementation, you must be building awareness in your team about the new Standard Operating Procedure and how it will add value to the organization.
Did you know that using a system to implement your SOP documents digitally may be one of the best ways to ensure the quality of work? But remember, the SOP is a guide, not a ruling. According to Dean Scaduto of Forbes, the SOP is “a guide, not a bible — it’s meant to influence, not command.” What better way to accomplish this than with a mobile automation form app like 1st Reporting?
Review & Revision
This last stage is how you monitor and measure the success of your SOP. You need to review it regularly, including annual or semi-annual audits, for compliance or regulatory requirements in your industry.
Summary & Resources
Writing an effective Standard Operating Procedure takes time and effort. However, if you follow the abovementioned stages, the process will be as effective as possible.
In this article, we have looked at how to write a Standard Operating Procedure by walking through all eight stages of SOP implementation. If you need an SOP template, try using our free and downloadable SOP Template here.
- Take your SOPs Digital with 1st Reporting
- OSHA – Standard Operating Procedures for Safety and Health Training
- Job Hazard Analysis Template – 1st Reporting
- Site Condition Report Template – 1st Reporting
- Digital OSHA Record Keeping with 1st
Digital Solutions To SOP Management
It’s a great idea to know about using a mobile form automation app that you can use instead of paper-printed templates and forms. We offer such a software solution, the 1st Reporting app.
The 1st Reporting app is a cloud-based solution for all your organization’s reporting needs. From SOP templates to vehicle repair request forms, to just about any form, checklist, template, or another similar device you can think of is possible with the customizable solutions of the 1st Reporting app.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the app works well to replace the old paper and pencil way of doing things. And being a mobile, cloud-based solution, the app can go anywhere your team members go, so reporting from mobile and remote locations is a breeze.
Easy to follow and customizable, a digital reporting solution is key to transitioning from paper to paperless. You’ll be surprised how easy implementation is. Let us show you just how easy.