Documentation procedural manual: top tips

On 12 December 2018 we held an hour-long Twitter session to let you know a little more about our new documentation procedural manual resource. We had a lot of insightful comments, queries and poll results, so we decided to put them all together for anyone who missed it.

Read on for insights into how your peers are using and updating their manuals, as well as tips, guidance and links to resources.


We asked: What aspect of creating a procedural manual do you find particularly tricky?

Twitter blog chart

There were some great suggestions for other difficulties too, which we’ve included along with some advice for resolving them:

  • Ensuring people abide by the procedures in the manual, and recognise why they are needed.
    Use the ‘why this is important’ sections in Spectrum 5.0 to help make your arguments, and introduce staff and volunteers to the manual during their inductions so that these procedures are embedded in their practice from the start.
  • Determining the correct level of detail to include; avoiding so much detail that the manual becomes inflexible, or so much vagueness that the manual leads to rogue approaches.
    Cheat sheets, flowcharts and example documentation are all useful for breaking up the text instructions while providing practical details.
  • Different teams have various responsibilities within the same procedure, so things fall through the cracks (eg loans going through registrars, conservators and exhibition teams).
    A good manual should make these roles and responsibilities clear to avoid confusion. You can also use task management programmes and apps to assign and track specific procedures. This is particularly useful if you have a digital copy of your manual.


Numbering systems

We asked: Does your procedural manual include a written record of your museum’s historic numbering systems, explaining when, why and how they’ve been used?

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Top tip:
Your procedural manual is a useful place to store information about historic documentation systems that have been used in your museum, such as former policies and systems that previous members of staff can tell you about.


Front of House

We asked: Does your Front of House team ever deal with object entry, for example the arrival of unsolicited gifts? Do they have guidance on what to do in different scenarios?

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Collections are at the heart of your museum, so it’s likely that other departments will need to refer to them. This is why it’s important to make the manual easy to understand across the museum. You can find some guidance for making resources accessible here.

Top tip:
Whether it’s a hard copy, an electronic document, or a combination of the two, your procedural manual should be easy to access for all staff and volunteers.

Top tip:
It’s useful to include a statement about where your procedural manuals are stored, and how many copies you have, in the manual’s introduction.


Reviewing manuals

We asked: How often do you review your procedural manual?

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Top tip:
It’s important to have backups of your procedural manual and clear processes for updating and revising it, as well as version control.


Read the documentation procedural manual guidance in full here.

You can find all the original tweets in our Twitter Moment, and remember to tweet any further queries or comments to us at @CollectionTrust.