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Technical Communication and Policies & Procedures: What’s the Relation?

By Ramond E. Urgo

Frequently, I am asked about the relationship between policies and procedures (P&P) and technical communication? My answer: They are often the same when it comes to communicating, different when it comes to subject matter, and sometimes complementary to each other’s value. Simply put, they are similar, different, and yet may work together.

Similar When Communicating

Technical and P&P documents are often similar in their principles and styles of communication in comparison to other forms of communication such as literature, creative writing, and expository writing. Technical and P&P communication are typically characterized by the use of graphics (drawings, tables, charts, illustrations), action titles, technical and organizational jargon, data, unambiguous language, varied formats, acronyms, and usually procedures.

Differences with Subject Matter

When it comes to subject matter, technical communication is usually about practical, industrial, or mechanical arts or the applied sciences. Some examples are a user’s manual for operating software; instructions for troubleshooting a VCR hookup; marketing literature on how a medical device works; a scientific report about a litmus test’s results; and a proposal for an environmental engineering project. P&P communication is usually about operating practices (standards, policies, processes, procedures, work instructions) for an organization’s business performance. Examples of policies are a non-discrimination commitment, use of information resources, customer service guarantees. Examples of processes are the information flow for a purchase order among various departments, or a description of a manufacturer’s quality management system. Examples of procedures or work instructions are when and how a computer operator performs a system backup, and how a clerk sorts and transacts daily sales orders.

How Technical Communication and P&P are Complementary

Sometimes technical communication and P&P communication work together. For example, a technical communicator may produce a manual or online help reference as to how to use an accounting software package designed for the XYZ Company. The information may include chapters or references about transacting accounts payable and receivable, generating summary accounting reports, searching for past dues by date. The XYZ’s P&P communicator may then produce a manual or instructional material as to when and how to use this accounting package’s features in the context of XYZ’s business operations. The information may include policies and procedures for what types of reports are to be generated, when they are to be generated, who should receive them, what action to take with them, when system runs are conducted, and who is authorized access to certain information. In essence, the technical communicator informs how to use a technical product (accounting software package), while the P&P communicator informs how to use (hopefully efficiently) the product in the context of daily business practices.

To communicate further ideas on the relationship between technical communication and P&P, please submit your ideas to the editor.

Copyright 1995, Raymond E. Urgo
Urgo & Associates, Los Angeles

Published in the Steps & Specs newsletter of the Policies & Procedures Special Interest Group, Society for Technical Communication

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