Writing better SOPs

Wherever you work, you’re likely to have standard operating procedures, often referred to as SOPs. If you oversee a particular process, you might be asked to write or update the SOP for that process. And if you’ve never written an SOP before, it might be hard to know where to start.

This blog post and my associated Writing Better SOPs guide (you can download the guide from the Resources page) aim to give the basics you need to get started on writing a clear and effective SOP!


So, what are SOPs?

SOPs are standard operating procedures. They are written procedures for a specific activity and contain detailed instructions. They use a standardised format and describe standard practices.


And what are the benefits of SOPs?

There are lots of benefits!

·       They increase efficiency, accuracy and safety

·       They increase accountability if something goes wrong

·       They can be used as a training aid

·       They help identify weak areas and potential problems

·       They are often required by donors, institutions, regulators and governments


How should I write for a SOP?

There are some simple rules to follow to make sure your SOP is clear and easy to follow:

·       Write in the third person (don’t use ‘I’)

·       Avoid gendered pronouns. Use ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’

·       Write in clear, short sentences

·       Write in the active voice and present tense

·       Use accurate language. E.g. use ‘after 4 minutes’ instead of ‘after a few minutes’

·       Don’t use modal verbs. E.g. use ‘samples are stored’ instead of ‘samples should be stored’

·       Use a language(s) clearly understood by the intended users. E.g. have local language and English versions


What else do I need to know?

You also need to know about the parts of an SOP and the steps involved in writing one. These two topics are covered in my guide Writing Better SOPs. Click the link to download the guide from the Resources page.


How can I make sure my SOP is free from errors?

SOPs are key documents and will be read by many people, so you want them to look and sound professional.

Always get input from your colleagues before making your SOP final and sending it for authorisation. Ideally you would also get an editor to check and improve the text.



If your organisation doesn’t have an in-house editor, get in touch with me on services@njball-services.com and I can give you a no obligation quote for editing your SOP.