Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.
Definition of Standard Operating Procedure
Alice works as a lab technician for a research lab at a university. She spends most of her day preparing lab specimens for the research scientists to examine and analyze for their respective research. She is required to follow a standard operating procedure in preparing the specimens. A standard operating procedure (SOP) is simply a document providing instructions on how a person should perform a routine or technical task followed by either a business or industry.
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Purpose of SOPs
SOPs provide consistency and predictability and help ensure quality of outcome. This is particularly important in technical and scientific fields such as Alice's, where a failure to use consistent research procedures can either destroy the research or put its conclusions in serious doubt. For example, if Alice fails to sterilize a petri dish before placing a specimen in it, there is really no way to confirm that the contaminated petri dish didn't have an effect on the outcome.
Structure of SOPs
While SOPs are quite diverse, they do tend to share a fairly common structure from a document standpoint, including:
- A title page that includes the topic, the effective date of the SOP, the purpose of the SOP and the individuals who have approved it
- A table of contents
- A scope and applicability section that explains why the SOP was prepared, to what the SOP applies, the regulations or laws it satisfies and any limitations on the use of the SOP
- A summary of method section, which is simply a short paragraph summarizing the procedure, including who's involved, the duties of each person involved and the order in which activities are to be performed
- A section on safety warnings and cautions, such as the use of dangerous equipment, chemicals, and materials
- A section on interferences, which is anything during the process that may interfere with the accuracy or quality of the end product, such as sample contamination, negligence, humidity, moisture, temperature, sample size and altitude, among other things
- A section on the personnel involved in the procedure, including their respective roles and responsibilities
- A section on the necessary equipment and supplies to carry out the procedure
- A section on data and records management, including such things as how data is collected, calculated and reported
- A quality control and quality assurance section, such as directions regarding retesting, recounting and recalibrating instruments
- A section on definitions of technical terms
- A references section that provides a citation list of all sources used to develop the procedures; if these sources are not readily available to the reader, copies of the cited supporting documents may be included.
Let's review what we've learned. A standard operating procedure (SOP) is a written set of instructions for a technical or administrative activity. It is used to help create consistency and predictability in the performance of tasks, as well as provide a means of quality control. While SOPs vary greatly by topic, they do have a common structure used to outline the 'who, what, where, how and why' of the procedure.
Parts of an SOP
- Title page
- Table of contents
- Scope and application
- Summary of method
- Safety warnings and cautions
- Personnel involved
- Equipment and supplies
- Data and records management
- Quality control and assurance
After viewing this lesson, you should be able to summarize the purpose and content of an SOP.
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Standard Operating Procedure (SOP): Purpose, Content & Structure
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