7.4 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Robin L. Potter

A standard operating procedure (commonly referred to as SOP) is a specific type of document that consists of instructions for controlled processes. Controlled processes include steps or procedures that must be performed consistently and accurately each time that they are performed due to safety, quality control, or testing considerations. SOPs help organizations maintain consistency in the performance of critical tasks by many employees. The SOP informs the reader about the procedure’s authorization, frequency, purpose, scope, and revision history. It also contains a description of the equipment needed and the steps that must be followed in a specific sequence.

Often used in contexts where testing requirements are stringent and where safety is top of mind, these documents help employees maintain quality and safety in their work. Specifically, SOPs are used in the following areas (de Sain & Sutton, n.d.):

  • Manufacturing
  • Testing Methods
  • Quality Testing Methods
  • Maintenance
  • Calibration
  • Equipment Use

For example, SOPs are required in the pharmaceutical industry to regulate how drugs are manufactured, handled, stored, distributed, sold, transported, labelled, and destroyed. These documents form part of departmental audits by regulators, so they must be frequently and regularly updated.

In addition, SOPs can be used in business, such as in finance, human resources, administration, customer service, and marketing (Brampton Small Business Enterprise Centre, n.d.). In essence, the document guides professionals in performing their responsibilities in a standardized or uniform manner. More importantly, in the sciences, manufacturing, and quality assurance, SOPs enable organizations to comply with the standards established by laws, regulations, and policies.  Review the video below about the importance of having and following a SOP.

 

(The Importance of a Standard Operating Procedure, 2022)

SOP Format and Components

The format of SOPs is standardized in that typically, within an organization, the SOP format is uniform across the organization. The title page must contain a standardized header (See Figure 7.4.1). Though there may be some variance across organizations within an industry, the page 1 header usually includes the following elements:

                                        Table 1: Components of Page 1 of SOPs

Component
Description
Title
The SOP title—written using specific and concrete language

Example: Standard Operating Procedure for the Testing of COVID-19 Samples

Company name
The name of the company that created the SOP
SOP number
A unique identifying number used for tracking purposes
Pagination
Page number, along with the total number of pages

Example: 1 of 5

Applicable to
Employee roles to whom the SOP would apply: e.g., supervisor, lab technician
Effective date
The date when the SOP went into use
Version number
A number indicating the document version
Originator and date
The person who originated the document
Verifier and date
The person who verified the document prior to circulation  

 

Authorizer and date
The person who authorized the release of the document

You can see by the example in Figure 7.4.1 below how the various components for page 1 of SOPs are typically distributed.

 

TITLE:                                                                          COMPANY NAME

SOP NUMBER:                        ­                                    PAGE #:

APPLICABLE TO:                                                        VERSION #:

EFFECTIVE DATE:

NEXT REVISION DATE:

 

  Originated by Verified by Authorized by
Name      
Role      
Date      
Signature      

 

 

 

Figure 7.4.1: Sample SOP title page header.

 

The body of the SOP typically contains these components:

Table 2: Typical Sections of SOP Documents

Components
Description
Purpose
Briefly states the purpose of the document.
Scope
Delimits the scope of the document: the procedural elements it covers and does not cover.
Responsibility
Describes the responsibilities of person roles who would likely be involved in supervising or performing the process.
Frequency
Indicates how frequently the procedure must be completed
Safety notices
Includes caution, danger, and warning notices as applicable to the procedure.
Definitions/abbreviations
Clarifies any important technical terminology used in the SOP
Associated documents
Lists documents used to inform the creation of the SOP; may include laws, codes, regulations, material safety data sheets (MSDS), safety data sheets (SDS), and the like.
 
 Equipment and materials required
Lists any equipment or materials required for the tasks to be performed; includes personal protective equipment.
Procedure
Explains in a numbered sequence the steps that are required to complete a task.
Version history
Includes a chart indicating the revision numbers and dates.
References
Lists the resources used to create the SOP.

 

Knowledge Check

 

To view sample SOPs, click on the following links:

Format Requirements

SOPs must be created using standardized formatting consisting of the following:

  • Include the SOP title and number, company name, and page number on every page.
  • Format the page number as follows: page X of Y—page 1 of 5.
  • Single-space all text, and add a line space between bullet/listed items.
  • Number all the parts of the SOP as follows: (e.g., 1, 1.1, 1.1.1, 2, 2.1, 2.1.1. . .) and nest (indent) sub-steps.
  • Use bold to highlight headings.

SOP Language and Style

Like any set of instructions, SOPs must be clear and straightforward, so use language that is precise and specific to convey information relating to the procedure. Follow these tips for creating an effective SOP style (see examples in Table 3):

  • Use clear, specific, and concrete language.
  • Choose straight-forward vocabulary.
  • Use a concise, active, and direct approach.
  • Use the imperative mood by preferring the action word for each step.
    • e.g., “Place the tachometer trigger on one half of the rotor unit.”

Table 3: Examples of Vague and Specific Wording

Vague Wording Specific Wording
for a few minutes for 5 minutes
add a few drops at a time add 0.1 ml at a time
store in the freezer store at -20°C to -30°C
incubate incubate at 37±1°C
spin down the sample spin at 10,000 rpm for 10 mins at 2-8°C

 

The SOP Lifecycle

SOPs are created to address the need for compliance to laws, regulations, or policy and serve to establish norms for the performance of specific types of tasks. These documents, then, are created with careful attention to task requirements, compliance exigencies, quality control, and revision protocols.

Include these steps when creating an SOP:

  1. Clearly identify and define the need and audience for the SOP.
  2. Complete a thorough task analysis so as to create a complete procedure.
  3. Submit the draft document for review by various stakeholders including managers and users.
  4. Test the document and obtain feedback via survey, interviews, and/or observation.
  5. Revise the document and submit it to a quality assurance review.
  6. Ensure the document is compliant to laws, regulations, and policies so as to pass audits.
  7. Track revision dates.
  8. Control old SOP versions (may involve collecting and destroying outdated SOPs).

For more information about instructions generally, please refer to Chapter 7.3: Instructions.

 

Knowledge Check

References

Brampton Small Business Enterprise Centre. (n.d.). What is a standard operating procedure? https://www.brampton.ca/EN/Business/BEC/resources/Documents/What%20is%20a%20Standard%20Operating%20Procedure(SOP).pdf

De Sain, C. & Sutton, C. V. (n.d.).  Standard operating procedures (SOP): Content, format, and management. http://hrvillage.in/docs/584_1.pdf. Document no longer available online.

Inspection Canada. (2019, December 12, updated). Operational Procedures: Calibration procedures for common equipment used by the CFIA Inspectorate https://inspection.canada.ca/inspection-and-enforcement/guidance-for-food-inspection-activities/sample-collection/calibration procedures/eng/1540301411823/1540302234709

Manitoba. (2020, November 25, rev.).  SOP for Protocol Swabbing (Adult and Pediatric)SOP # CO-1.  https://sharedhealthmb.ca/files/covid-19-sop-swab.pdf

US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticide Programs. (2017, March 2, rev.).  Standard operating procedure for calibration and maintenance of weigh balances.

SOP Number: EQ-03-08. Office of Pesticide Programs Microbiology Laboratory Environmental Science Center, Ft. Meade, MD. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-01/documents/eq-03-08.pdf

 

 

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Technical Writing Essentials by Robin L. Potter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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