Policies, Procedures and Guidelines - What are they?


During my time in the NHS I read, saw and wrote a lot of policies. Before the planned reorganisation of the Trust I worked at, there were a LOT of policies, a complete library of them, and not all of them necessary. Once the organisational changes were underway of course, many of them were revised, shortened or if no longer relevant, removed.

Policy revision – a painstaking process

When I was in charge of writing a policy, it had to go through a process of consultation, and it would often go through endless revisions by relevant parties before it even reached that stage. It was a painstaking process, and if I wasn’t actually in charge of writing one, then I was part of the team that revised, edited it and put forward any comments or potential suggested changes. Of course this would depend on whether it was a policy relevant to my department.

What was a policy anyway?

The one thing I noticed in my time there was how nobody seemed to have a good idea of what a policy, procedure or guideline was, often confusing the three. Policies for some departments were often several pages long, the length of dissertations, while procedures would be of the same length, often with both documents covering the same topics. A set of guidelines would often be a mish-mash of the first two.

Policies, procedures and guidelines are all different things

What I did learn is that they are distinctly different types of document, and since I’ve been providing white papers in my role as a freelance copywriter, I apply these rules to all policies and procedures. Of course it really depends on what the client has asked for. If he has asked specifically for a policy, procedure or set of guidelines, then that’s what he’ll get, obviously after further questions to establish exactly what he wants.

Often, clients want a report or a paper, which introduces a certain product or service for potential clients, which again, is something completely different. However, when it comes to policies, procedures and guidelines, it helps to point out the differences between all three should be you be attempting to write them yourself on behalf of your business. As a copywriter, I am often asked to write policies under the blanket heading of “white papers,” but what should they contain?

Policies – A policy is what you’re going to do, a course or principle of action and how you’re going to go about it, it’s a promise of how you’ll abide by something and who is responsible. What is the chain of command for abiding by this policy? Policies are clear statements of intent, they spell out how your organisation will conduct itself regarding any actions, services relating to your business. They offer a set of guiding statements or principles which help with decision making. They don’t have to be that long either; all you really need are a couple of pages. Keep the language simple and easy to understand, spelling out the key responsibilities. Which pieces of legislation does it reference (if any) and which other policies and procedures does it relate to? Who is responsible for this policy and how will staff be disciplined should they be in breach of it?

How you’re going to carry out the actions or principles stated in your policy will be clearly spelled out in your set of procedures. Procedures tell staff how you’ll put the policy into action within your organisation. It should outline what steps need to be taken, who will be doing it and which documents or forms you should use. Procedures can be long, but they can also be just a few pages with bullet points and/or instructions. They could also be a set of forms or flowcharts.

Guidelines – A set of guidelines provide advice on how to act in a given situation so you’re equipped with the information and actions you need to take.

All policies, procedures and guidelines will vary depending on where you work, but what they should do is reflect your business’s approach, your values, culture and commitments to your organisation.


If you'd like me to create a policy, a set of procedures, guidelines, or a report for your business, then get in touch. Email: gillianjones@taithcopywritinguk.com. Tel: 07513642292