How To Write a Scope of Work

Definition, Examples, and Must-Have Items for Your SOW

Project manager using Gantt chart schedule to organize tasks and update planning on computer screen
•••


NicoElNino / Getty Images

The Scope of Work (SOW) is a written outline that succinctly details the important aspects of work to be performed. It lays out what will be accomplished, and identifies milestones, reports, deliverables, and time frame, among other particulars.

Completing an SOW is an important part of ensuring that everyone is on the same page regarding what will be taking place, the methodology for carrying out the work, and details about payment. We’ll discuss in more detail what an SOW is, what you should include when putting one together, give an example of an SOW, and answer some common questions.

What Is a Scope of Work?

An SOW is used when two parties—often a client and an agency or outside contractor they’re working with—are at the onset of a project. It’s the part of an agreement that lists a description of the work that is going to be undertaken, and helps to clarify that everyone has a shared understanding about the important details of the project.

It’s crucial that you be specific and detailed when writing your SOW; that way, if disputes arise, you can consult the document for answers regarding what was agreed upon in advance.

Must-Have Items for Your SOW

While each SOW will vary depending on industry and project details, we’ll discuss the key components that are typically included.

Glossary 

Here, you clearly define any complicated terms or words that are unfamiliar to those outside the industry. Spell out all acronyms mentioned in the SOW.

Pay attention to the words that you use in the SOW. Using terms like “should,” “can,” “must,” “may,” etc. all can have different implications. Make sure you’re choosing the words that best fit your expectations.

Project Goals

Elaborate on the intention of the work—discuss any problems that the project is trying to solve, along with an explanation of project goals and how they will be accomplished.

Deliverables or Objectives

List the deliverables that are expected, and how they will be obtained. Include details such as how many deliverables there will be, to whom they will be given upon completion, and in what format they will be provided.

You also will want to include a breakdown of what steps will be taken to obtain the deliverables. Avoid vague language; instead, get specific about the technicalities of how you will achieve the end results. Include details about any necessary meetings, calls, or other requirements that may not have a direct deliverable attached, but are still an expected part of the project.

Timeline

Provide a clear time frame of when work on the project will take place. Note key milestones along the way, and dates that various tasks will be completed, along with deadlines for each of the deliverables. If there are other meetings or check-ins involved, include information about when they will take place and how frequently.

Logistics

You will want to address any necessary logistics related to the work. What are the pay rates for the project and the anticipated budget? How will payments be received and when? Are there any other terms or conditions that need to be agreed upon? What happens if issues arise such as missed deadlines, or the workload expands beyond what was originally expected?

A Scope of Work Example

To put everything we’ve discussed together, we’ll provide a sample SOW. In this example, a freelance writer is putting together an SOW for a project requested by a client.

Scope of Work for Work-Life Balance Article Project

Glossary

Expert: A person with a particular skill set, experience, or knowledge on a topic. Must be able to verify their credentials.

Sources: Credible places to obtain information that can be used and referenced in the article. For this project, the writer will only use sources on the approved source list provided by the client.

Work-life balance: How much time and energy the employee spends working in comparison with the amount they put toward their life outside of work doing things like maintaining relationships, pursuing hobbies, and other responsibilities.

Project Goals

The goal of this project is for the writer to produce five articles on the topic of work-life balance. The content will be used to educate employees about how to live healthier lives. This information is intended to increase employees’ general well-being, which will help boost workplace morale and productivity.

Deliverables

The writer will create five articles related to the theme of work-life balance. Each article will have a word count of 1,000 to 1,200 words and will include at least one expert interview. The writer must use footnotes to cite all information referenced in the articles, and can only use sources from the approved source list that has been sent to the writer by the client. The writer is responsible for finding experts to interview for the articles.

Each article must include a minimum of two links to credible websites (such as .gov, .org, or .edu). If there are any questions regarding what is considered an acceptable site to link, the writer will contact the project manager.

At the onset of the project, the writer will propose to the project manager 10 article ideas related to the topic of work-life balance. The project manager will select five of the proposed ideas for approval. The writer will then write the articles in accordance with the timeline discussed in the section below.

Upon completion, articles will be emailed to the project manager on or before deadline in the format of a Word document. After submission, the writer will respond to one round of edits per article. The writer will respond to any edits or questions within two business days. Any additional edits or changes will be performed as agreed by the project manager and the writer.

The project manager is the point of contact for the writer if any unforeseen challenges or issues arise, or if the articles require significantly more time and resources than initially anticipated. If the writer is unable to meet the deadline, they will inform the project manager as soon as possible and no later than two days before the deadline, at which point the writer and the project manager will agree upon a resolution that works for both parties.

Timeline

Aug. 2: The writer will email 10 proposed topic ideas to the project manager by 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST). The project manager will approve five of those topics by Aug. 5.

Aug. 13: The writer will submit the first article to the project manager by 5 p.m. PST.

Aug. 20: The writer will submit the second article to the project manager by 5 p.m. PST.

Aug. 27: The writer will submit the third article to the project manager by 5 p.m. PST.

Sept. 3: The writer will submit the fourth article to the project manager by 5 p.m. PST.

Sept. 10: The writer will submit the fifth article to the project manager by 5 p.m. PST.

Sept. 17: This is the final date that the writer is available to respond to any edits or changes to be made to the project. All edits or changes must be completed before 5 p.m. PST on this date.

Rates

The writer will receive a rate of $700 per article. The funds will be transferred into the account on file via direct deposit 15 business days after an article has gone through the final editing process. As stated in the timeline section, all of the articles must be edited by Sept. 17, 5 p.m. PST.

Don’t assume anything is implied. An SOW is your opportunity to clarify all of the details. When creating an SOW, write it with the mindset that anything that isn’t explicitly stated won’t happen.

Frequently Asked Questions

What scope of work software applications exist?

Some project management sites offer templates for creating an SOW; others have features that help with managing tasks and keeping tabs on schedules and deadlines. If you’re interested in using software to write an SOW, explore the different project management software options for one that best fits your needs.

What is 'scope creep'?

“Scope creep” is a term used for when projects take more time and resources than were initially expected and budgeted for them. There are a variety of reasons scope creep occurs, including internal miscommunication, or clients changing their mind mid-project or deciding to add on extra aspects.

What can you do to prevent scope creep? 

A detailed SOW can help to prevent scope creep by identifying misunderstandings ahead of time; however, it can be hard to predict in advance the direction a project will take. You can stay ahead of scope creep by being quick to recognize and acknowledge work that’s beyond the scope of the project. Don’t agree to accept the additional workload until you’re able to add the extra amount of payment to the budget and reach a new price that works for both parties.

Being transparent with your employees about the finances of a project can help keep them from taking on extra work without charging for it. If employees are given all the numbers, it’s easier for them to see how their actions fit into the bigger picture, and to be held accountable for them.