Writing Policy Documents

A printable version of this document can be found here.

Before You Start

  • Clearly define the problem the document will discuss.
  • Research your policy – get input from all roles and departments affected by the policy.
  • Read current literature on the topic. Literature support is available from the Library swhlibrary@swh.net.au

Keep it Simple

Your policy needs to be read and easily understood by a wide variety of people:

  • Write your policy in plain English; be clear and concise, avoid complex language and long paragraphs.
  • Avoid jargon, unnecessarily technical terms, or overly formal words and phrases. Use common terms. Such as ‘use’ rather than ‘utilise.’
  • If abbreviations are used, first define them, abbreviations can have different meanings to different specialities across the health service.

Keep it Active

Succinct documents written in an active voice are generally easier to comprehend.

  • Say it in as few words as possible. Use ‘before’ rather than ‘prior to’ and ‘often’ rather than ‘in most cases.’
  • Use active voice rather than a passive voice, and write in the present tense.
  • Avoid the use of ambiguous terms such as ‘should’ and ‘shall.’ For mandatory actions, use ‘must.’

Keep it Consistent

  • Use the approved South West Healthcare policy and procedure template. Documents written and presented in a consistent manner aids readability.
  • Define the meaning of the important terms used in the policy in the Definitions section.
  • If you have a list of bullet points punctuate these consistently. This is what I recommend:
    • Use a full stop after every bullet point that is a sentence (as these bullets do).
    • Use a full stop after every bullet point that completes the introductory stem.
    • Use no punctuation after bullets that are not sentences and do not complete the stem.
    • Use all sentences or all fragments, not a mixture.
  • Many words have variable spelling, policies should be written in Australian (or British) English.
  • There are many different referencing styles (APA, Harvard, Oxford, Vancouver…) for consistency South West Healthcare will use the American Psychological Association (APA) style manual. For referencing support the Library can be contacted. Quick online guide Re:cite.

Keep it Current

Future-proof your policy by avoiding details that may quickly become outdated.

  • Don’t use specific staff names or contact details – where possible use a generic group email address or phone number (such as ethics@swh.net.au)
  • Be conscious of linking to further information. Policies may be printed, so must make sense when read off-line in hard copy.
  • Check with the Library to see what current editions of resources are available and if linking to an eBook/chapter/ journal article/ guideline is possible.
  • Use the principles for the inclusion of resources document if you are not sure whether to include a resource in the policy.
  • If updating existing policies, check links still work and provide current information.

When You Are Done

Ask for a peer review (from the Library, someone in your team, or someone outside of your specialty that may not know the content you are explaining). The reviewer can use the above dot points as a proofing checklist.


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publications manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). (1999). Guide to the development, evaluation and implementation of clinical practice guidelines. Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.

Punctuating Bullet Points. (2012). Retrieved from https://www.businesswritingblog.com/business_writing/2012/01/punctuating-bullet-points-.html

Snooks, L. (2005). Style manual for authors, editors and printers (6th ed.). Australia: Commonwealth of Australia.

Writing Policy Documents. (2015). Retrieved from https://documents.uow.edu.au/about/policy/write/index.html

Writing Guidelines

What is a clinical guideline?

Clinical practice guidelines are evidence-based statements that include recommendations. Clinical practice guidelines are intended to optimise patient care and assist health care practitioners to make decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances. Clinical practice guidelines should assist clinicians and patients in shared decision making.

Guidelines for Guidelines is an online resource comprised of a collection of peer reviewed modules developed by the NHMRC. Together they form a handbook that covers every aspect of the planning, development, review, implementation and updating of guidelines.

Topics include:

  • Standards
  • Forming the questions
  • Identifiying the evidence
  • Synthesising evidence
  • Assessing risk of bias and certainty of evidence
  • Plus many more helpful topics that can support you writing guidelines, but further these tips can be used to provide guidance on developing a policy or starting research project.

    NHMRC Clinical guidelines (National Health and Medical Research Council)

    Clinical Practice Guidelines - Cancer Council of Australia

    MJA (Medical Journal of Australia) Guidelines and Statements

    NICE - National Institute for Health and Care Excellence are evidence-based recommendations for health and care in England.

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