The Process of Writing Processes

Know your audience and write a well-structured 
document they can follow without additional context

Know your audience and write a well-structured 
document they can follow without additional context

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It’s not difficult to identify a good process document, but creating one is often much harder. When you’re in the process of writing it yourself, it can be challenging to put yourself in the shoes of the reader, who likely has much less context than you do.

Thoughtfully structuring your document is the first step:

  1. When should this process be run? Clearly outline the triggers for running the process
  2. Who should run this process? Use a job title, not a person’s name that will change more frequently
  3. What is the process? A numbered step-by-step guide to running the process with visual cues
  4. What else might I need to know? An FAQ format can be helpful. Information that would be mostly relevant to people running the process for the first time
  5. What if I hit a dead-end? A clear escalation path for what to do if the reader encounters an impassible issue. Also, include this in the step-by-step process section if relevant.

If it’s not automatically added to your document (or easily seen), annotate the last-updated date and the author(s).

Incorporate visual references wherever possible. An annotated screenshot goes a long way to improving the reader experience. Pro tip: Annotate your screenshot with the same numbers as your step-by-step process with arrows pointing to the relevant elements. 

If the process isn’t mostly top-to-bottom, consider building out a simple flow chart summarizing the process and provide details of each step in the document.

Assume the reader has minimal context and structure the document to be equally useful for the first and tenth time running the process. Information only needed the first time is best moved out of the main process outline to the “what else might I need to know” section. After running the process many times, the reader should be able to jump straight to the “what is the process” section and have minimal unnecessary information mixed in.

Take your document to the next level by incorporating helpful links and tools directly in the step-by-step process. Referencing a section in your admin tools? Provide a direct link. Does the reader need to do a calculation? Provide a pre-configured Google Sheet with clearly labeled cells to fill out.

As you’re writing a process document, remember the work you’re doing is highly leveraged. A little extra effort will likely save many people time — maybe even “future you”.