Policy Writing Guide
University policies are broadly applicable statements of action or value that direct the activities of the University community. Generally, University policies:
- support the University's mission, strategic plan, or stakeholder relationships;
- promote University compliance with external rules, regulations, and/or requirements; and/or
- address an institutional risk or operational efficiency.
University policies serve as MSU Denver's guiding principles.
This guide assists policy sponsors and responsible offices with writing policies. It outlines the key elements of the University policy template, as well as stylistic and mechanical tips for drafting clear and concise policies.
MSU Denver policy development and review processes are managed by the Office of the President.
For ease of reference, university-wide policies are published in the online University Policy Library using a standard template. The template requires key pieces of information that must be included along with the policy. Some information, such as Procedures, Definitions, Sanctions, and Related Information, is included as part of the template but is not required if it does not apply to a particular policy.
Basic Policy Information
Policy Title - A brief, descriptive heading for the policy. Typically, the word policy is not included at the end of the title.
What to include:
- Who is the primary audience? Who needs to follow the policy?
- What is expected of the employee or student? What are the major conditions or restrictions?
- In what situation(s) does this policy not apply? Are there exclusions or special situations?
What not to include:
- Background details
- Operating procedures
Authority - The individual or entity with the power or right to enforce and to make decisions regarding a particular policy. If authority over the policy is granted through legislation, the specific legislation or other requirement should be referenced in this section.
Purpose - The purpose of the policy includes the justification and rationale for adopting the policy. The purpose may include the problem or conflict the policy is designed to resolve and should reference regulatory or legal reasons for the policy, if applicable.
Scope - The scope of a policy identifies the University population to which a particular policy applies. Some University policies apply to all members of the University community regardless of affiliation as an employee, student or other category. Other University policies apply to a subset of the entire University population, such as all students, all employees, or all faculty.
University policies apply across all units of the University, including divisions, colleges, academic departments, and administrative departments. Policies in effect for only one division, college, or department are not considered University-wide policies.
Roles and Responsibilities
When policies are approved or revised, identifying the University executive, administrator, and office responsible for overseeing implementation, operation, and communication of the policy is important. The Policy Office serves as a liaison with the Responsible Office when questions on a particular policy arise.
- Responsible Executive - The University Officer or other authorized institutional official responsible for high-level oversight and stewardship of the policy. Typically, the President or one of the vice presidents or associate vice presidents is listed as the responsible executive for a University-wide policy.
- Responsible Administrator - The University Officer or other authorized institutional official responsible for overseeing operation of and compliance with a policy.
- Responsible Office/Policy Contact - The Policy Contact is the position or office to contact with questions on the policy.
- Other Roles and Responsibilities - Other roles and responsibilities that are necessary to carry out operation of a policy are included in this section.
Definitions - Any ambiguous or technical terms included in the policy that could be subject to interpretation if undefined. For instance, a Minors on Campus policy might define the term minor to exclude students under the age of 18, who have a legitimate reason for being on campus unattended by an adult.
Procedures - The step-by-by actions required to operate or comply with a policy. Some policies require only a few steps in the process, while other policies require multiple sub-processes and steps.
Operating procedures may be included with the policy but are not required. The Responsible Office overseeing the policy may revise the procedures as necessary to reflect current operations. The Responsible Office should communicate any changes to the procedures to the University community and impacted stakeholders.
Related Information - Related information includes any related rules or requirements, including policies, procedures, guidelines, and requirements for accreditation and external funding, including federal and state funding, that should be referenced in relation to a particular policy.
Sanctions - Sanctions include any disciplinary action or penalties for non-compliance with a policy. Sanctions are optional and may be omitted if they do not apply to a particular policy.
When writing new or revised policies, consider the following tips...
Being concise means using as few words as possible to get your point across. Consider which words are essential to convey your meaning.
3rd Person Voice
Policies should be written in third-person voice.
- 1st Person - I must...
- 2nd Person - You must...
- 3rd Person - Students must...
When using acronyms, spell out the words the first time and include the acronym in parentheses afterward, e.g., Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE).
Policies should be written in plain language. Avoid using jargon and other technical terms that may only be understood by a select audience familiar with that lingo.
Avoid including information that may become quickly outdated. Use generic, instead of specific, terms. Use the title of an individual rather than the individual's name.
Specific vs. Generic
Banner - Student Information System
Jane Smith - Registrar
Choose your words, including verbs, carefully. Verbs often imply what level of choice those to whom the policy applies have when carrying out an action included in the policy. Generally, policy writers should avoid using the verb can, which means that students or employees are able to rather than required to perform a particular action. Also, the verb should implies choice and is more appropriate for guidelines rather than policies.
Verb - Meaning
Must - Have to (does not imply choice)
May - Allowed to (implies choice)
Should - Ought to (implies choice)
- Students are required to...
- Faculty are responsible for...
- Employees must...
For assistance drafting a policy:
Contact the Policy Administrator at firstname.lastname@example.org or
303-605-5231 · Student Success Building, Suite 440
890 Auraria Parkway · Denver, CO 80202