Handbook best practices

Documenting a business process is not a simple task. There are best practices to keep in mind. Over the years, we've learned a lot of lessons how how to make a handbook page as effective as possible, and we're sharing our best practices with you here.

1. Clear action-oriented title

Make sure your title is clear and self-explanatory. Always start with a strong title. It should be obvious just by reading the title what the handbook is about.

Keep in mind that the title will affect the handbook's URL. You'll likely be sharing links to handbook pages with co-workers on a regular basis and the words used in your title will be visible in the URL. The more user-frienldy and intuitive you can make your titles, the more logical the URLs will be as well.

Here are some examples of good titles:


2. Make it fool-proof

Ask yourself, "Would my mother be able to understand and follow these steps?"

If the answer is No, then simplify and explain in more detail. Use visuals and plain simple language to explain.

Get a second opinion. Ask a co-worker to read it and offer suggestions. We recommend that you ask a co-worker or friend who is NOT an expert in the topic to do the review - that way anything overly complicated or confusing will jump out immediately.

3. Avoid duplication

If you have a series of steps that you want to re-use in multiple handbooks, then create a separate handbook for this sub-process and link to it from both handbooks. This way, the information will be created once and you'll avoid duplication. Think "re-usable sub-processes".

Duplication of steps will inevitably lead to confusion and mistakes as updates can be inconsistently applied to all places over time. By having the steps written out only once, then you only need to update it from one place.

4. Use steps

Think of each handbook as a recipe with clearly defined sequential steps. Use ordered bullets whenever you can. People like to follow steps and they are also good to help people remember to get all the items done. The bullets are nice as well, because you can indent them to make sub-lists and sub-sub-lists and so forth.

5. Use the accordion for templates

The accordion feature is very helpful for collapsing information that doesn't always need to be seen at a glance such as email templates. By putting them into an accordion tab, the handbook page is easier to digest and the template will not cloud the general view of the handbook's steps or procedure. It's especially useful for condensing a page with lots of information. 

6. Use UPPERCASE for text to be replaced

When you have an email template you'd like to be sent, use UPPERCASE on the items that should be replaced in the email.

Here's an example:


We also recommend that you put templates like these in accordions to keep your handbooks clean and easy to digest, see tip above.

7. Keep each handbook focused on ONE purpose

Each handbook should have one clear purpose.

If you try to put too much into one handbook, it will make the handbook less useful. On the other hand, if you break up your handbooks into too many tiny components it might be a nightmare to use as well. Finding the sweet spot is important. This will take time.

You won't nail all your handbooks perfectly the first time, but inaction will hurt you more. Get started and create handbooks with an iterative mindset. Our system is very flexible so you can create a handbook and then split it off into two handbooks down the road if you need, you can extract a section of a handbook and put it in it's own handbook later and then link to it from the other handbook. You can slice and dice the information as you go.

Successful businesses operate in a continuous improvement mode, so your handbooks need to behave the same way. They need to keep up with your best way of doing things at this moment in time.

The sweet spots will come and you'll feel it on each handbook when you get there.

Think of each handbook as the documentation for a repeatable deliverable or task that you can point anyone to when you need this deliverable or task completed.

Like Goldilocks, there is a level of detail that's "just right".

8. Organize handbooks into groups of eight or less

If a book has more than 8 sub-pages, it's an indicator that you need a sub-level.

Create two or more placeholder handbooks at the top level and then tuck all the handbooks under their respective sub-page. This will create a hierarchy of handbooks and make it easier for your team members to navigate and find what they need quickly.

Reading through a grid of more than 8 handbook page titles feels overwhelming.

Use the re-order button (up/down arrows) to easily re-order pages and set the hierarchy through a drag-and-drop interface.

9. Consistency is key

Try to adopt some general rules across the team about how you create your handbooks. Referring to these best practices can help your team start on that path and should cover the basics. If you decide or agree on some special rules you want your team to follow, then create a handbook page for that so that you can point everyone to it. You can also guide new team members to that page when they come onboard to help them assimilate better.