Drafting University Policies or Standards

This document provides useful tips to help policy owners draft clear, effective university policies and standards.

 

1. What problem is this policy solving? When writing a policy, always consider the overarching purpose of the policy. Periodically ask yourself: Why is this policy needed? What is this policy intended to accomplish? Focus on the specific task at hand and avoid drifting into peripheral areas. In Sections 1 and 2 of the policy template, clearly state the purpose of any policy.

 

2. Less is more. A policy need not be lengthy. In fact, shorter is often better. The ultimate goal of a policy is to clearly convey important information; longer policies can be more difficult to understand, interpret, and apply. Of course, some policies, by necessity, are complex or must contain a great deal of information. When drafting a policy, try to concisely include the essential information. If possible, consider including additional context or information into separate documents, such as FAQs.

 

3. Keep it at a high level. Focus on general responsibilities of key individuals and offices rather than on the specific procedures required to operationalize a policy. Operating procedures, unit rules, or office-specific policies can be developed separately—and updated and refined more frequently.

 

4. Who does what? Clearly articulate the roles and responsibilities of key offices or individuals. Who is authorized to make certain decisions or responsible for carrying out certain duties? When, and to whom, is authority delegated? What actions need to take place? Consider describing a particular individual’s responsibilities in a single location when possible in the policy (e.g., as sub-bullets under that individual) instead of describing their responsibilities across different sections. Describe processes in a logical manner, such as, chronologically or by responsibility of each individual/office.

 

5. Use plain language. Be direct. Be specific. Policies that are unclear, unnecessarily complex, or ambiguous can be easily misunderstood, misinterpreted, and improperly applied. Use plain, clear language that can be easily understood by most readers the first time they read it. Be direct. Avoid jargon, passive voice, and shorthand, and clearly indicate specific actions and actors.

 

6. Define your terms. Clearly define any important individuals, terms, or actions. In particular, define terms that are not generally understood or that have a meaning that is specific or important to the policy. Do not assume the reader has the same level of understanding of the subject-matter as you, as a policy owner.