Writing a Policy
Before you begin…
- Review Administrative Policy: Establishing Administrative Policies and the associated procedures.
- Contact your designated Policy Advisor Committee (PAC) representative or the Director of the University Policy Program at [email protected] so that the director can assist throughout the planning and development process.
- Use the Policy template to draft the policy.
Overall guidelines for writing an administrative policy
University-wide policies affect a large number of faculty, staff, students, and other external individuals/entities that use University resources or services. The policies must be easy to read, specific, and use language that is easily understood by the intended audience.
Use language that reflects the policy’s intent. Select the words carefully. For example, words like ‘should’ and ‘may’ imply a choice, while ‘must’ or ‘will’ reflect a requirement. Each policy must contain a minimum of one requirement.
Additional rules when drafting a policy:
- No gendered pronouns should be used (e.g., he/she, his/hers).
- With the exception of the contacts table, titles must be used rather than actual names of individuals as this information will change over time.
- Links to directly related documents may be referenced in the body of the policy statement, but only once for each document. For more information on links, please review our Appendix: Best Practices for Including Links in Policy Documents.
- Policies and related documents must be accessible as outlined in Administrative Policy: Accessibility of Information Technology. To achieve accessibility, we recommend that all policies and documents be published in HTML. However, you may include a Word, PowerPoint, or PDF version of an associated document. If you do so, please ensure that the document is accessible by using the Accessibility Checker in MS Word, Excel or Powerpoint. The accessibility checker can by accessed by choosing the review ribbon, an choosing the accessibility checker on the ribbon. WebAIM's Word and PowerPoint Accessibility Evaluation Checklist is an excellent resource to verify that your document is accessible.
- Footnotes are not permitted in the template. However, an FAQ might be a good location to provide additional information that is important to the reader.
- References to University Policies should take the following format:
- Board of Regents Policy: Policy Title where Policy Title is italicized.
- Administrative Policy: Policy Title where Policy Title is italicized.
- Do not precede the policy reference with "the".
- The first reference to the policy is linked. Successive references are not.
All policies submitted for publishing will use the Policy Template.
- Policy - provides the requirements, responsibilities, definitions, and reason for having a policy on this subject
- Procedure - contains information needed to complete an action/process; often a series of interrelated steps
- Appendix - may be used in a variety of ways to supplement the requirements listed in the policy
- FAQ - contains questions and answers related to the subject matter
The most structured of the templates is the policy template. The standard template consists of sections that need to be completed when writing a policy.
Below are descriptions of each section as well as tips, examples, and more. If assistance is needed with completing any of the other templates, please contact the Policy Program Director at [email protected].
Section by section guide
The information contained below will provide guidance in completing each required (or optional) section of the template or document. Each time the image below appears in this document, it relates to the equity lens with which administrative policies are viewed.
The following parameters should be used when determining the title of an administrative or academic policy:
- The title should reflect the key purpose of the policy, in as few words as possible (e.g., Accepting Gifts)
- If the policy does not pertain to the whole University system, this should be reflected in the policy title. Examples: Campus and Building Closing: Twin Cities; Academic Calendars: Twin Cities, Crookston, Morris, Rochester
- The title may include verbs to either show separation from another closely titled policy, or to indicate which portion of the topic will be covered by the policy and procedures. Example: Gifts Accepting and Managing Gifts.
When considering policy titles, identify language that could help with preventing barriers with understanding or interpreting its meaning from a variety of intended audiences.
Additional title block information
In addition to the title block, a standard University policy contains the following information:
- Title of the senior leader(s)
- Title of the responsible University officer(s)
- Title of the policy owner(s)
- Policy contact(s) - this is the individual who would like be the first point of contact for questions
- Date revised - leave blank as this will be filled in by the University Policy Program staff
- Effective date - this is the date that the first version of the policy became effective
A well-written policy statement sets direction and defines the intended audience. Questions that are typically answered through the policy statement:
- Who is the primary audience?
- To whom do the requirements apply?
- In what situation(s) does this policy apply?
- What actions are mandated or prohibited?
- What is expected of the employee or student?
- Are there exclusions or special situations?
Use the following to guide the drafting of a policy statement:
- Sentences and paragraphs should be clear and understandable for the given audience. Use the fewest words to convey the most meaning.
- An introductory paragraph may be included to set the context for the policy. This should be different than the reason for policy which follows the policy statement.
- Acronyms may be used if spelled out completely the first time the phrase is used (e.g., principal investigator (PI) or National Incident Management System (NIMS)).
- To communicate a requirement, use strong action words (must, must not, are responsible for, are prohibited from, etc.). Do not use ‘shall’ in the policy statement.
- If some of the content in the policy statement is optional, “may” or “recommended” work well for those sentences.
- Use an active voice where possible (Faculty must submit the course syllabus… vs. the course syllabus is to be submitted by the faculty…).
- Avoid using a specific label, such as the name of a software product. Generic terms are more sustaining and require less maintenance over time.
- Subheadings may be used to both direct the reader to the appropriate area and to improve the readability of long policies.
- Use the Special Situation subheading when there is an approved condition that might run contrary to the stated policy.
- Use the Exclusions subheading if there is some segment of the University population or process that would not apply to this policy, or any funding sources or job classifications that are excluded from the policy. If there are no exclusions, assume that the policy applies to the entire population.
- Be sure to keep the procedural steps in the associated procedure. Procedures will be listed in alphabetical order in this section of the document.
- References to related Board policies must be formatted as such: Board of Regents Policy: Policy title.
- Unless a list is sequential, bullets are typically used instead of a numbered list.
It is important that policy owners consider the impact on those who need to understand, apply, or follow its requirements/directions. Consider these additional equity lens questions:
- Who does the policy impact?
- What forces are driving this policy?
- Are there individuals and/or communities that will be disproportionately (and negatively) affected by this policy?
- Does this policy perpetuate or help dismantle historical, legal, or other barriers set in the past?
- If disparities are identified, how can they be mitigated or eliminated?
Example partial policy statement
(from Drug Free University policy)
Students, faculty, and staff are prohibited from engaging in:
- the illegal possession, use, or distribution of alcohol, drugs, and drug paraphernalia on all University premises, in University-supplied vehicles, and as part of University activities and business; and
- the unlawful manufacture, distribution, dispensation, possession, or use of a controlled substance on all University premises, in University-supplied vehicles, and as part of University activities and business.
Reason for Policy
The information in this section should answer the question as to why the policy exists/is needed. Key areas that may be addressed include:
- legal or regulatory reasons;
- description of conflict or problem the policy will resolve;
- recognizes the legitimate interests of all parties; or
- overall benefits.
If implementing a Board of Regents policy, this will be the first sentence under the Reason for Policy, phrased as shown below.
To implement Board of Regents policy: use italics here for the official policy title.
If there is a state or federal law with which this policy is aligned, it may also be specifically referenced in Reason. If several laws or University policies are touched by topics contained within the policy, this list of references is better moved to the Related Information section.
Reason should not include the history as to how the policy was developed nor should it contain procedural steps.
Example policy reason
To implement Board of Regents Policy: Nepotism and Personal Relationships. The University of Minnesota is committed to the highest standard of professional conduct and integrity and expects all members of the university community to adhere to them. Members of the University community must take care to ensure that personal relationships within the community do not result in conflicts of interest and situations that might impair objective judgment or create a hostile work environment.
Related Documents: Procedures, Forms, Appendices, FAQ
A well-written procedure provides a series of consecutive action steps related to one or more policy requirements. There is no limit to the number of separate procedures that may be attached to one policy. Each specific procedure’s title should be listed in this section, and they will be linked to each unique procedure.
The following should guide the drafting of a procedure.
- The steps should be clear and understandable for the given audience. Use the fewest words to convey the most meaning.
- An introductory paragraph at the top of the procedure may be used for complex procedures or those with options.
- Acronyms may be used if spelled out completely the first time the phrase is used (e.g. principal investigator (PI) or National Incident Management System (NIMS)).
- Pronouns should not be used when creating procedures.
- Subheadings may be used to both direct the reader to the appropriate action area and to improve the readability of long procedures
When creating procedures, consider the potential for disproportionate or undesirable impact on those who need to understand, apply or follow these steps (see the policy statement section above.)
When the effort certification period opens, the Principal Investigator (PI) and every researcher paid from a sponsored project will receive an email notification that the effort statement is ready to certify. Follow these steps to complete certification within the appropriate deadline:
- Go to the Effort Reporting website and click <Login to ECRT Information>.
- Enter internet id and password.
- On the ECRT home page, click <Certify/View My Effort>.
There is a wealth of information for policy owners under the Policy Owner Resources tab of the Policy Library, such as a Senate Matrix to identify those groups that should participate during the consultative phase of the development. If assistance is needed at any step of this development process, please contact the Policy Program Director at [email protected].
Forms / Instructions
Links to University-wide forms used in following this policy and procedure(s) will be displayed here. Necessary forms that are hosted on another site, such as a federal or state website, may also be listed. Forms will be listed with the form number first, then the form title. The forms are sorted alphabetical by form title.
Appendices often contain supplemental information to the policy or procedure(s), such as lengthy or complex reference information that would disrupt the flow of other sections. Appendices might also reference information that applies to a select portion of the population. Flow charts of processes or job aids may be included in appendices.
Example documents under appendices
- Reimbursable / Non-reimbursable Travel-related Expenses
- Travel Assistance for International Travel
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
No matter how well some policies are written, there will always be questions based on individual interpretation. This section will contain the most common questions and their respective answers. Three or fewer questions will be displayed in this section. For FAQs that exceed three questions, a separate document is created by either the policy owner or the University Policy Program staff.
Each policy should have a minimum of one contact listed. This person should be the subject matter expert who could answer most of the questions and direct them to additional resources as needed.
- If there are separate contact lists by system campuses, enter a line to reference the particular campus and contact.
- If the first point of contact is a position within the unit (e.g., human resource representative), the listing could specify that distinction in the Contact column. Phone numbers would generally be left blank.
The subjects may be listed in the order of most important or most frequent, rather than an alphabetical listing.
Example additional contacts table
This should be a list of unique or important terms that, by being defined, would add to the reader's understanding of the policy and associated documents. There is no separate definitions section in procedures, appendices, or FAQ. Please refer to the Glossary of Terms in the University Policy Library to determine if that term and definition already exists. While it’s encouraged to use the standard definition, subject-specific examples attached at the end of the definition may assist the reader.
- Good Faith Participation
- Reporting, or otherwise expressing opposition to, misconduct based on a reasonable belief that misconduct has occurred, or honestly participating in an investigation of misconduct or accessing conflict resolution services.
This section provides the opportunity to summarize major responsibilities or any person or group who has a role in this policy and associated procedures. The list of responsibilities will be displayed in an order defined by the policy owner, typically in order by importance or level of involvement in the policy. Be sure that the content assists all individuals in understanding their role and responsibility, and have awareness as to whether or not individuals and/or communities will be disproportionately affected by serving in this role and fulfilling the identified responsibilities.
- Establish and publicize leave of absence policy and ensure that students are informed throughout their academic careers of the policy and consequences of inactive status. Inform students of potential conditions that may be imposed upon reinstatement at the end of an approved leave of absence.
Board policies, other administrative policies, and external laws and regulations related to the subject mentioned in this policy can be listed here. These documents help provide other useful, relevant information