Writing Processes and Procedures Using Audience Analysis
and the ISO 9000 Document Hierarchy
Tricia Cunat, Mary Craig
Processes and procedures are part of our everyday lives.
The ISO 9000 document hierarchy defines three levels
When we have a problem following a set of instructions
or difficulty understanding when we are supposed to
perform a specific task, we realize first-hand the
importance of processes and procedures in our lives.
In order to develop successful processes and procedures,
we must understand the differences between these two
These documents are defined by ISO as follows:
document types. Processes describe a sequence of tasks
while procedures describe how to perform a specific
Define what we do and why we
However, knowing the differences between processes and
do it. Typically, policies are high-
procedures isn’t enough. We must also use audience
level and apply to an entire
analysis to ensure the correct document type is
Define what we do (that is, what
tasks we perform) and the
sequence in which we perform
tasks. (Sometimes processes are
Have you ever tried to program a new VCR and given up
also referred to as procedures.)
because the instructions were too difficult to
Define how we perform specific
understand? Perhaps you purchased a piece of furniture
tasks. (Procedures are also
that you had to put together and wished you hadn’t!
referred to as work instructions.)
Everywhere we go in our daily lives, we face a variety of
processes and procedures–everything from those “some
The goal of an ISO audit is to make sure a company,
assembly required” items to pumping gas at the corner
organization, or department follows well-defined
gas station. Processes and procedures are part of our
processes that ensure delivery of a high quality product
lives and we seldom give them much thought until
as the end result.
something doesn’t work as expected.
During an ISO audit, auditors look for evidence that
As technical communicators, we often find ourselves in
employees understand and follow documented
the position of having to write policies, processes and
processes. They are also interested in process metrics
procedures. Sometimes these types of documents can be
that result in continuous process improvement.
very difficult to write. By using basic facts and
Therefore, once a process is developed, it must be
techniques (such as the ISO 9000 document hierarchy
reviewed and updated on a regular basis.
and good old-fashioned audience analysis), you may find
it a bit easier to develop a process or procedure in the
ISO auditors are not concerned with the procedures (or
work instructions) developed to support a process.
Evidence that a process is understood and followed
ISO 9000: CONNECTION TO
usually means effective work instructions are in place.
PROCESSES AND PROCEDURES
As stated in the ISO definition, processes are sometimes
referred to as procedures. While there are similarities
Many companies are required to pass ISO 9000 audits in
between the two, it is important to understand the
order to sell goods or services in countries outside the
differences. Because some level of confusion exists, this
United States. In addition, many of these companies also
paper concentrates on processes and procedures. It does
require their vendors to be ISO certified.
not include information about policies.
If the subject applies to more than one audience, you
must determine the tasks that each audience performs.
Based on the ISO definitions for processes and
procedures, you may already have an idea about the type
What is a User/Task Matrix
of document you need to develop. However, let’s put
that aside for a minute. Before deciding whether the
A user/task matrix helps you identify the major tasks and
document should be a process or a procedure, first
potential audiences for a given process or procedure.
examine who is going to use the document. What you
find may change your mind about the type of document
The following example lists a few major tasks and
that is needed.
identifies potential audiences involved in the
development of a user manual:
Defining the audience helps you identify the two key
building blocks of processes and procedures:
• The experience level of the audience–which helps
you determine the appropriate level of detail, the
amount and complexity of examples, and the
vocabulary to be used.
The tasks to be performed–which help you
determine the scope of the document.
Who are the Users
The first thing you need to do is determine who will use
the process or procedure. If you know the subject matter
1 Needs general or conceptual information
2 Needs overall process understanding (What?)
very well, you probably have a good idea who the
3 Needs in-depth procedural understanding (How?)
intended audience is. However, be careful to distinguish
between users and readers. Remember that an audience
Using answers to questions about audience experience,
is a specific group of users with specific knowledge and
job function and preferences, this sample user/task
skills. The users of a process or procedure are your
matrix shows that most of the audiences need either an
overall process understanding or an in-depth procedural
understanding of the defined tasks. You can use this
To further define the audience, ask the following
information to determine the type of document you need
to write and what level of detail to include.
• What is the education and training level of your
Let’s look at the similarities and differences between
processes and procedures in more detail.
• How much background does your audience already
have on the subject?
PROCESS VS PROCEDURE
• What are the job functions or job descriptions of the
audience? (Senior level? Technical? Professional?)
Now that you know the audience you are writing for and
• What are their preferences and expectations; i.e.
what tasks the users must perform, next you need to
how will the audience use the document?
determine what type of document to write.
You also need to know whether the subject applies to
Knowing the difference between a process and a
more than one audience. If it does, you must consider
procedure is very important in determining the
the different needs of those audiences.
appropriate document type. In some cases, the best
solution may be a combination of process and procedure.
What Tasks do the Users Perform
After determining your audience, use task analysis
techniques to determine what tasks the audience
performs. Task analysis lets you focus on the subject of
the process or procedure.
What is a Process
What is a Procedure
Webster’s dictionary defines a process as:
Webster’s dictionary defines a procedure as:
• A series of actions or operations conducing to
• A particular way of accomplishing something or
• A continuous operation or treatment especially
• A step in a procedure
• A series of steps followed in a regular definite
order (for example, a surgical procedure)
Processes describe the tasks to be performed (that is,
• A series of instructions for a computer that has
what needs to be done and in what order) and not how to
a name by which it can be called into action
Procedures describe how to perform specific tasks (for
A process should be written when:
example, how to use a particular tool or a specific
• The audience is experienced enough to know
how to perform the tasks.
A procedure should be written when:
• The end result is more important than how the
result is accomplished.
• The tasks must be performed in a prescribed
• There are several acceptable ways of
order using exactly the same method every time
accomplishing the tasks and the audience can
(for example, manufacturing instructions).
choose among them.
• The audience is inexperienced and needs more
Remember to write a process at a high enough level. A
process should give the user enough information so they
Remember to write a procedure with step-by-step
understand what needs to be done and in what order. A
instructions so the user has a sufficient amount of
process does not provide the exact steps to tell the user
information in order to perform a task or series of tasks
how to perform each task.
1. Obtain input from subject-matter experts.
Perform the following steps to install XYZ
2. Prepare draft.
3. Review draft.
4. Merge comments.
1. Insert the CD into the CD-ROM drive.
5. Test deliverable.
2. If Auto Run is turned on, the setup program
6. Prepare final copy.
7. Deliver final copy.
If Auto Run is turned off, run the setup
program manually from the CD.
3. Follow the steps on your screen as the
installation wizard guides you through the
Comparing Processes and Procedures
A combined process and procedure document should be
Processes and procedures can often be confused as one
in the same thing when in fact they are very different. It
• The audience needs to be divided into sub-
is important to understand both the similarities and the
audiences, such as experienced versus
• There are multiple procedures that need to be
Processes and procedures are similar in that they
described under a single process.
typically involve a sequence of events or tasks and are
Several procedures may support a single process because
The following table highlights some of the major
differences between processes and procedures:
• Multiple users of the same process with
different job responsibilities.
• Multiple ways to perform a task depending on
the user’s organization.
Answers “How?” questions
For example, you may have a process that describes the
Describes events or a
Describes steps that
tasks involved in backing up computer systems. To
someone follows in order
support that process, you may have several procedures:
to accomplish a task.
one procedure for system administrators and another for
someone needs to be
Usually involves more than
Usually involves a single
person (although multiple
people may perform the
You know your audience. You know what tasks they
perform. You’ve decided whether you are going to write
Provides an overall
Does not include enough
a process, a procedure, or both. What’s next?
understanding of what
information for one to
happens and in what order.
understand where the task
Both processes and procedures can be presented in a
fits in the bigger picture.
variety of different formats: both paper and online.
Lacks the level of detail
Includes enough detail that
Paper formats may include traditional documents,
required for someone to
a person can complete a
laminated cards, and printed material from an online
understand how to perform
task with little or no
source. Online formats may include Windows Help files,
HTML files, and PDF files.
You may choose to provide a process or procedure in a
Combining Processes and Procedures
single format. Or, you may find that you need to provide
the process or procedure in multiple formats.
Depending on your audience, the reasons for writing the
process or procedure, and your organization’s rules, you
Remember to keep the audience’s environment in mind
may choose to write a combined process and procedure
when determining the best format for your process or
document. When they are combined, procedures
procedure. A traditional paper document may not work
normally support processes, but either can standalone.
in all environments. For example, procedures that are to
be used on a manufacturing floor may need to be
presented on large, laminated cards. Conversely,
processes and procedures for medical professionals may
be more effectively presented as linked PDF files on a
hospital intranet site.
Consider the following when determining a presentation
• Do the users have access to a computer for
• Do the users have access to a company
• Can the user easily print a paper version if
online access isn’t always available?
• Does the user need to carry a printed version
from site to site?
• Does the user want to customize a process or
procedure for his or her own use?
Even a well-written process or procedure may be
ineffective if users find it difficult to use in their
All in all, writing processes and procedures is much like
writing technical documents. Success depends on
developing the right document for the right audience.
4100 Hamline Avenue North
Arden Hills, MN 55112
Tricia Cunat is an STC member. She has a degree in
journalism, an MBA, and a Master of Business
Communications certificate. Tricia has been in technical
communications for over 18 years and has held variety of
positions including responsibilities for ISO documentation
and process development. She is currently an intranet
developer at Guidant Corporation.
Product Information Manager
2359 Walnut Street
Roseville, MN 55113
Mary Craig is a senior member of STC. She has a BS
degree in STC from Michigan Technological University
and joined Unisys after graduating in 1982. In her 18
years at Unisys, Mary has held a variety of writing and
management positions including Manager of Corporate
Product Information Procedures. She currently manages
a team of technical communicators.