Best practice

Tips for drafting policy documents

Before you start writing

  • Don’t launch straight into a draft document. Drafting is usually best done later in the development process rather than sooner.
  • Think about the outcome you need to achieve. Policy is used to give direction or to prescribe action in a particular academic or administrative area. It should not be merely an endorsement or restatement of existing laws or regulatory requirements, but rather should set out the principles and steps the University will adopt to ensure it complies with these requirements.
  • Read other documents, look at precedents, research and analyse before beginning drafting, but then draft your own document. Don’t just cut and paste parts from elsewhere. Make sure your document “speaks with one voice” because different voices lead to ambiguities and loopholes.
  • Assess the audiences for your document before you begin drafting. There will always be more than one. Make sure you draft for them rather than for the document owner. Will they understand the content in the same way? Do you need to provide definitions for some terms? Are there potential ambiguities which need to be clarified or concepts that need to be spelled out?
  • Except for Human Resources policies, use the “statement of intent” section in policy documents rather than “overview”. It is a good discipline to attempt to state the objectives and function of your document in a few short sentences. If you can’t do this, it may be an indicator that you haven’t sufficiently thought through or developed your ideas.
  • Plan the sequence of major headings before beginning drafting. Organise the main ideas first and then fill in the details.

Naming

  • Most search engines work alphabetically, at least in part, so having every document title start with the same words slows things down. It also makes it harder to find the one you’re looking for when you generate a list.
  • Give every document a name which immediately identifies its subject matter. This will help the search and categorisation functions to operate effectively. There are further instructions about this in the templates.
  • Do not begin with “The”, “University”, “Policy on”, “Procedures for” or similar formulations.

Numbering

  • You must number every paragraph, and must use the prescribed numbering format. Details are set out in each of the templates.
  • The templates provide for four levels of text. If you find this is not enough, go back and redraft. This indicates that the expression is getting too complex

Language and style

  • Make sure the document “speaks with a single voice”. Wherever possible, have one author work on the draft, even if they are incorporating other people’s ideas and feedback.
  • Use one main idea per paragraph, section or subsection. Keep paragraphs short and avoid large slabs of unbroken text.
  • Use clear, concise and grammatical plain English. Wherever possible, give preference to everyday words over technical ones.
  • Be sparing in your use of capital letters. Use them only for proper nouns, acronyms and references to “the University”.
  • Be sparing in your use of adjectives and adverbs.
  • Draft in the third person (“they”) rather than the second person (‘you”).
  • Make sure you use the same words for the same concepts throughout the document. If you don’t, you will introduce ambiguities.
  • Avoid passive or indirect language. Wherever possible say who will do what, rather than that something will be done.

Attachments and diagrams

  • Don’t hesitate to use graphs, flowcharts or diagrams if they will assist your reader. It will usually be best to attach them as Schedules. Contact the University Policy Manager for assistance if necessary.
  • Forms or templates can also be appended to documents as schedules.