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How to Start Writing a Human Resources Manual

The first step involved in developing a human resources manual is researching your own company.  This research will help to define the purpose and scope of the manual.

*  Review the company’s business plan.

*  Observe the organizational environment and any unwritten human resources practices.

*  Find policy information from interoffice memos, current practices and procedures. Some businesses post information such as vacations on bulletin boards or through email.

*  Learn about competitive practices by reading business periodicals such as HR Magazine and reading other firms’ policy manuals.

*  Learn about employment laws on the federal, state, and local levels.

*  Read about administrative regulations and court decisions.

*  Define the scope and how many topics will be included in the manual.

*  Establish a realistic timeline for completion.

Once your research is complete and the manual’s objectives have been identified, prepare a rough draft.  Your goal at this stage is to identify the manual contents and ensure each section is written using clear and concise terms that are easily understood. The writing style used should reflect the organizational environment and management style of the company.

The next step is to put the manual contents in a well-organized format.  Items that should be considered include:

Arrangement of Topics - There are several common arrangements for topics: (1) alphabetical, which is useful in small companies with a limited number of topics; (2) functional, which groups topics under broader titles; and (3) chronological by order of importance, with the most important information appearing at the beginning of the document.

Page Numbering - The most widely used page numbering methods are consecutive and decimal.  Companies that use a functional arrangement of topics typically use a decimal page numbering system while those that opt for alphabetical and chronological arrangements tend to use consecutive page numbering.

Manual Formatting - Use a predetermined combination of headers, sub headers, footers, margins, underlining, boldface, italics, color, illustrations, photos, etc. to give the reader a sense of consistency. 

Future Revisions - Select a paper size and type that can easily be replaced in the event updates are needed in the future. Many companies use 3-hole punch paper and binders since they tend to provide the most flexibility.  Also, consider including a date or revision number so you can track changes made and ensure the manual contents are current.

Distribution - Decide the method by which to share this manual with employees.  Alternatives include: 1. Issue a new copy to each employee to keep, 2. Post copies of the manual in break room, employee lounge, near time clock - and other accessible locations while keeping the manual “on the property”, 3.  Publish the manual on the company’s server while emailing a copy to each new employee.  Keep in mind, with each new policy or revision, employees should sign an acknowledgement of their receipt of this addition.

Language - Ensure the language is clear, concise, complies with legal requirements , and is consistent with everyday management practices.  Terms that may imply a contract should be eliminated (e.g. use the terms full-time or regular employee instead of permanent employee; use the term introductory period instead of probation period, etc.)

Proofreading - Check for spelling and grammatical errors.

Formatting - Confirm formatting is consistent.

Tone - Ensure the tone of the manual is positive.

A well-organized and written human resources manual will help to promote compliance with legal and company requirements, prevent excessive questioning and minimize possible legal disputes.


The perfect cover for your manual is a three-ring binder.  It is easy to replace out-of-date policies with revisions.  Employees can easily identify the change in the policy by underlining the new statement.



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