Best practices: How to phrase a checklist item

A checklist consists of items you want to inspect. But what is the best phrasing of these items? These three basic rules of thumb will help you to define clear and unambiguous checklist items.

single checklist item

Check single items

The most common mistake is to cramp multiple points into one check item. For example: “The handle of the freezer is undamaged and clean.” This seems like an efficient way to perform an inspection, but it’s detrimental to post inspection analysis.
The check item actually contains two items ”The handle of the freezer is undamaged” and “The handle of the freezer is clean”. A good checklist declares both items separately. When you evaluate the inspection results you’ll know exactly what went wrong and don’t have to guess whether the handle was either dirty or scratched.


Let’s consider another freezer item: “The temperature of the freezer is OK”. This formulation should raise several questions. What is the proper temperature for this freezer? Is the freezer too cold or too warm? What temperature was actually measured?
A good checklist tells the inspector as concise as possible what to inspect. A better formulation of the same is “The temperature of the freezer lies between -15 celsius and -7 celsius”. A professional inspection tool allows you to store the measured temperature with the inspected item.

However this will not tell you if the freezer is too cold or too warm and what temperature was being measured. If you want statistics over the results of multiple inspections you might consider a phrasing using two items

  • “The temperature of the freezer is higher than -15 celsius”
  • “The temperature of the freezer is lower than -7 celsius”

This will differentiate between the number of ”too warm” and “too cold” items. It can help you discover structural inconsistencies.

It’s either right or wrong

To ensure clear results you’ve got to be strict. A common culprit is to allow checklist items to be answered with Excellent, Good, Adequate or Inadequate. When it comes to quality and safety, an item is either safe or it isn’t.

So when you define an item like “The refrigerator is clean”, make sure that the possible answer is Yes or No. There is no “in between” state where it’s OK to get a little bit of food poisoning.

checklist item
By |2017-01-12T16:02:54+01:00November 14th, 2016|Best practices, Updates|0 Comments

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