Technical writers are often asked to write procedures and work instructions. But these two types of documents are sometimes confused or used interchangeably. Knowing the difference between procedures and work instructions can help you develop effective documentation of your business workflows.

If your organization follows a process (inputs->operation or series of operations->outputs), a procedure, along with work instructions, can ensure consistency of your work product.

So what is a procedure?

A procedure (sometimes called a Standard Operating Procedure or SOP) describes the execution of the process: how a series of actions should be performed to achieve a specific outcome.

A procedure is more than a list of steps; it provides context, the relationships between actions, and the bigger picture.

It usually involves multiple actions, more than one person or functional unit, and may involve several stopping and starting points. It can be text based, but may also use a process map or flowchart to communicate the information.

In short, it tells you what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and how not to get it wrong.

What is a work instruction?

While a procedure describes the process (the conversion of inputs to outputs), a work instruction describes only the “how”. In other words, a work instruction describes in detail (step-by-step) how to accomplish a specific job, task or assignment. It may include graphics or other images to help with understanding.

Two or more work instructions may be needed for a single procedure.

In most cases, a work instruction is for a job to be performed by one person from start to finish and the task is completed in a short amount of time.

It’s important to remember that a work instruction is a tool provided to help someone to do a job correctly and therefore should be written with a focus on the end-user.

Benefits of well-written procedures and work instructions

In many organizations, it’s typical for things to get done without written procedures and work instructions. There are unwritten rules or tribal knowledge. But sometimes these unwritten rules need to be formally documented, particularly when employees seem confused or are repeatedly asking similar questions.

Procedures and work instructions will:

  • ensure standardization and consistency of a company’s best practices and solutions (reducing reliance on tribal knowledge information transfer!)
  • improve the quality of work within your organization
  • reduce errors and omissions
  • reduce confusion and misunderstandings about performing tasks or functions
  • help new employees perform complex tasks quickly and effectively

To get the most out of your procedures and work instructions, write it in a way that’s easily understood–using simple, clear words to communicate as briefly as possible.

Would your organization benefit from creating or improving its procedures and work instructions or technical documentation training? Contact Lexington Writing Firm for more information!

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