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National Plain Language Peer to Peer Conference

Appendix E

CHANGE DIGEST

Changes to the Style Guide are summarized in this section. A vertical line adjacent to text indicates a change. Digest entries and corresponding vertical lines will be deleted after 6 months.

VersionSectionChanges

May 2008

17

Revised style for definitions

Contents

1 GENERAL

This guide provides instructions for specification writers contributing to the California Department of Transportation's specifications.

This guide is based on information from several sources, including the Federal Register's writing guidelines, The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), AASHTO Guide Specifications for Highway Construction, and the highway construction specifications of other states. These sources may be shown in parenthesis for your information.

The examples in this guide are models for style, not actual specifications.

Interpret each rule as if followed by unless context and common sense dictate otherwise. Do not follow a rule if clarity is reduced.

2 IMPLEMENTATION

Follow this guide if you are writing parts of the 2010 edition of the Standard Specifications or corresponding revised standard specifications (RSSs) or project-specific specifications (PSSs).

3 REFERENCE FOR GRAMMAR, USAGE, CAPITALIZATION, AND PUNCTUATION

For guidance not covered in this guide, follow the guidance provided in CMOS for grammar, usage, capitalization, and punctuation. CMOS's Web site has answers to many grammar, usage, capitalization, and punctuation questions. The Specification Style Guide provides rules:

  1. From CMOS that are not used in everyday writing
  2. Not covered in CMOS.
  3. Contrary to the rules in CMOS (only a few of these). For the contrary rules, follow the rules in this guide.

Where the CMOS allows optional styles, choose the traditional style.

4 FEDERAL REGISTER'S WRITING GUIDE

Follow the principles in the Federal Register's Principles of Clear Writing, duplicated in part in this section. For additional explanations, go to:

http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/write/legal-docs/clear-writing.html

Bracketed text is text not in the Federal Register's Principles of Clear Writing.

1. Write in the active voice.

The passive voice is appropriate when the actor is unknown, unimportant, or obvious.

2. Use action verbs.

Don't saySay

is applicable to

applies to

make payment

pay

give recognition to

recognize

is concerned with

concerns

3. Use must instead of shall.

shall

imposes an obligation to act, but may be confused with prediction of future action

will

predicts future action

must

imposes obligation, indicates a necessity to act

should

infers obligation, but not absolute necessity

may

indicates discretion to act

4. Be direct.

Talk directly to your readers. [In the Department's specifications, talk to the Contractor.] Use the imperative mood. [Also, use you and your.]

This style results in [specifications] that are shorter, crisper, and easier to understand.

5. Use the present tense.

A [specification] speaks as of the time you apply it, not as of the time you draft it.

6. Write positively.

If you can accurately express an idea either positively or negatively, express it positively. It's better to express even a negative in positive form.

Don't saySay

did not comply with or failed to comply with

violated

[Example: If you violate Pub Cont Code § 4100 et seq., the Department may exercise the remedies provided under Pub Cont Code § 4110.]

7. Avoid use of exceptions.

If possible, state a rule or category directly rather than describing that rule or category by stating its exceptions.

Don't saySay

All persons except those 18 years or older must . . .

Each person under 18 years of age must . . .

[Use Section <Section no.> applies to <x> or <Requirement description> applies to <x> or introduce requirement with For <x>.]

However, you may use an exception if it avoids a long and cumbersome list or elaborate description.

[If a specification has exceptions, do not use general phrases such as except as otherwise specified or except as otherwise shown. Instead, specify the particular items to which the specification does not apply.]

8. Avoid split infinitives.

The split infinitive offends many readers, so avoid it if you can.

9. Use the singular noun rather than the plural noun.

To the extent your meaning allows, use a singular noun instead of a plural noun. You will avoid the problem of whether the rule applies separately to each member of a class or jointly to the class as a whole.

Don't saySay

The guard will issue security badges to the employees who work in Building D and Building E.

The guard will issue a security badge to each employee who works in Building D and each employee who works in Building E.

[Exception: Use plural nouns for headings and titles.]

10. Be consistent.

Don't use different words to denote the same thing. Don't use the same word to denote different things.

Don't saySay

Each motor vehicle owner must register his or her car with the Automobile Division of the Metropolitan Police Department.

Each automobile owner must register his or her automobile with the Automobile Division of the Metropolitan Police Department.

The tank had a 200-gallon tank for fuel.

The tank had a 200-gallon fuel container.

11. Use parallel structure.

Arrange sentences so that parallel ideas look parallel. This is important when you use a list.

[The following example is from the Federal Register's writing guide except that the format of the lists has been changed to comply with the format described in this guide.]

Nonparallel construction:

The duties of the Executive Secretary of the Administrative Committee are:

  1. To take minutes of all the meetings
  2. The Executive Secretary answers all the correspondence
  3. Writing of monthly reports

Parallel construction:

The duties of the Executive Secretary of the Administrative Committee are to:

  1. Take minutes of all the meetings
  2. Answer all the correspondence
  3. Write the monthly reports

12. Prefer simple words.

[See "Preferred Expressions" of this guide. Also, refer to plain language Web sites, such as www.plainlanguage.gov and www.plainlanguagenetwork.org.]

13. Omit needless words.

Don't saySay

[located at]
[at the following location]

[at]

because of the fact that

because

for the period of

for

[highway right-of-way]

[highway]

[including, but not limited to]

[including]

14. Avoid redundancies.

Don't use word pairs, if the words have the same effect or where the meaning of one included the other.

Examples: Word pairs to avoid

any and allfull and complete
authorize and directorder and direct
cease and desistmeans and includes
each and everynecessary and desirable

15. Use concrete words.

Abstract words can be vague and open to different interpretations. [Use] simple, concrete words. [Be specific.]

Don't sayIf you mean

vehicles

automobiles

firearms

rifles

aircraft

helicopters

16. Don't use words that antagonize.

[Not applicable to specification writing.]

17. Avoid noun sandwiches.

Administrative writing uses too many noun clusters — groups of nouns "sandwiched" together. Avoid these confusing constructions by using more prepositions.

Don't saySay[Or]

Underground mine worker safety protection procedures development

Development of underground procedures for the protection of the safety of mine workers

[Development of safety procedures for protecting workers underground.]

Which meaning is intended becomes clearer when this four-word sandwich is broken up.

18. Don't use gender-specific terminology.

[Exception: You may use gender-specific terminology if required to match industry-standard terminology or the law.]

19. Write short sentences.

20. Make lists clear and logical in structure.

[List by work sequence or most important to least important. If no logic, list alphabetically. Display a list of ±3 items in a vertical list.]

21. Use short paragraphs.

A writer may improve the clarity of a [specification] by using short, compact paragraphs. Each paragraph should deal with a single, unified topic. Lengthy, complex, or technical discussions should be presented in a series of related paragraphs.

5 BREVITY

Be as brief as possible without reducing clarity.

Avoid prepositions. But do not eliminate prepositions if noun sandwiches or nonparallel clauses or phrases are created as a result.

Don't saySay

authority of the Engineer

Engineer's authority

drawings for falsework

falsework drawings

Use elliptical clauses.

Don't saySay

For excusable delays that are not caused by weather, the Department pays your added costs.

For excusable delays not caused by weather, the Department pays your added costs.

If the Engineer determines that a claim is without merit, you may pursue the administrative claim procedure . . .

If the Engineer determines a claim is without merit, you may pursue the administrative claim procedure . . .

Avoid unnecessary qualifiers.

Examples:

  • actual
  • all (except to differentiate between partial and whole quantities)
  • any (except to specify a choice)
  • existing (with remove, reconstruct, salvage, abandon, or obliterate)

Avoid respective and respectively.

Don't saySay

Forms are listed under the names of their respective sections.

Forms are listed under the names of their corresponding sections.

The hat and the scarf must be blue and green, respectively.

The hat must be blue. The scarf must be green.

6 DEFINITIONS FOR CONTRACT PARTS

Use the following definitions for contract parts:

PartDefinitionUse

Plan

A detailed formulation of a program of action (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)

Charts
Maps

Outlines
Strategies

Drawing

Graphic and textual information organized on a two-dimensional surface for the purpose of conveying data about a specific portion of a project. Drawings convey design intent and may show multiple views, either of the whole project or of its parts. Drawings indicate relationships between elements and may show the following for each material, assembly, component, and accessory: location, identification, dimension and size, details, and diagrams of connections, shape, and form. (CSI)

Delineation
Tracings
Falsework drawings
Shop drawings

Specifications

A detailed and exact statement of particulars (Means)

Provisions, conditions, requirements, and terms except as described in Section 2.6 of the Style Guide

Supplemental project information

Information relevant to the project, specified as supplemental project information, and made available to bidders (Section 110 of the Standard Specifications)

Permits
Agreements
Cross sections
Foundation recommendations and reviews
Geotechnical reports

Log of test borings
Rock cores
Water source
As-built drawings

7 INDUSTRY STANDARD

Use terms in prevalent use by other states and the construction industry. Do not use terms unique to the Department. Use of a unique term requires concurrence by the specification owner, Construction, and Legal.

8 PREFERRED EXPRESSIONS

UseDo not use synonyms

accept (for an agreement to receive something as satisfactory)
approve (for CCOs and change order bills)

authorize (for a sanctioning from the Engineer)

certify (for drawings and plans (Bus & Prof Code 6735.5))

approve, authorize, or certify for an agreement to receive something as satisfactory
accept, authorize, or certify for CCOs and change order bills
accept, approve, or certify for a sanctioning from the Engineer
accept, approve, or authorize for drawings and plans

account

narrate

narrative

narration

activity

operation

adjacent

nextc

aftera

subsequent to

after June 30a

on or after July 1

all

all the

all of the

allow

permit

assign (as an action of the Contractor)

authorize
designate

becausea

for the reason that

beforea

prior to

before July 1a

no later than June 30

bya

by means of

change

alter
modify
revise

complete

finish

comply with

adhere to
follow
meet

contract witha

enter into a contract with

counta

enumerate

described in (to refer to the specifications and the drawings; to refer to the Contract)
provided in (to refer to laws)
shown in (to refer to info in a table)
shown on (to refer to drawing details or notes)
specified in (to refer to specifications, including specifications such as ASTMs)

indicated in

document (for general paperwork, including records)
record (as a verb)
record (as a noun if referring to paperwork containing recorded information)

record (for general paperwork)

document (as a verb)
document (as a noun if referring to paperwork containing recorded information)

duringa

during the course of
during the duration of

end

terminate

enougha

adequate number of
sufficient number of

except

excluding

faira

equitable

fora

in the interest of
with reference to

furnish (except for furnishing work documents and samples to the Engineer or Department)
submit (furnishing work documents and samples to the Engineer or Department)

give

howa

the manner in which

if (except use when in reference to time and where in reference to location)

when
where
subject to

in casea
in the event thataa

instead of a

in lieu of

is

considers (meaning deems)
deems

job siteb

site

project site

contract site

keepa (except use retain for records)

retain

limits

parameters

may

is authorizeda
reserves the right to

notify

inform

obtain (except use procure for materials)

get
procure
secure

on

upon (except use upon to introduce an event or condition)

upon request

at the Engineer's request

order

direct

plant

facility

possible

feasible

produce (except use manufacture to focus on a specific production part)

fabricate

project (except use job site)

job

provisions (for laws and permits)

conditions

specifications (for specifications, including specifications such as ASTMs)
terms (for contracts not between the Department and the Contractor)

requirements

quantity b

amount

reconstruct

adjust
modify
relay

relocate
remodel
reset

request

askc

requirea

necessitate

resulta

consequence

section

subsection

start

begin
commence

stopa

cease

the, this, these, that, those (Use the unless it creates ambiguity.)

such

to

in order to

too manya

excessive number of

undera

following
meeting
pursuant to

in accordance with
in conformance with
under the provisions of

untila

until such time as

usea

utilize
employ

waya

manner

whena

at the time

whilea

during such time as

withhold

retain

a From Appendix B -- Preferred Expressions of the Federal Register's Drafting Legal Documents
b Based on definition in Means Illustrated Construction Dictionary
c Reduced variation over simpler word

If choosing a word not in this list, balance the following:

  1. Use the most basic word.
  2. If the most basic word has many definitions and if those definitions can cause confusion (i.e., definition is not obvious by context), use a more precise word.
  3. Use industry-standard words.
  4. If a law is referenced, use the words in the law (only the core words, not the legalese).
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Updated: 11/26/2013
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000