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National Plain Language Peer to Peer Conference


Construction projects that are advertised, bid, and administered using clear, correct, and easy-to-understand documents will in the experience and expectations of the Conference participants:

  • Increase participation of industry in bidding state Department of Transportation (DOT) projects;
  • Reduce errors in estimating the cost of state DOT projects;
  • Reduce the likelihood of change orders and claims during construction;
  • Facilitate the resolution of those change orders and claims that do occur; and
  • Reduce the likelihood of errors in the inspection and administration of a construction contract.

It will probably never be possible to measure or quantify the dollar-value benefit of converting construction documents to plain language - active voice (PL). Conference participants agree that improving the clarity and quality of the construction documents will reduce construction and delivery costs. The federal government and many state governments have executive orders or legislative mandates to implement PL conversions. Some states are voluntarily implementing PL.

The initial PL effort is usually focused on converting the standard specifications to PL followed by conversion of special provisions, standard plans, bid books, policy manuals, and technical guides. PL principles can be applied to non-standard project specific specifications.

Representatives from ten state DOTs (California, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin) along with FHWA representatives from the California Division, Resource Center and Headquarters in Washington, DC gathered for a three-day Peer to Peer Conference held in Sacramento, California to share ideas, ask questions, raise concerns, share "lessons learned" and develop best practices regarding the conversion of construction documents to PL.

This conference was jointly planned and funded by the FHWA and the State of California, Department of Transportation, Construction Division (Caltrans). The Conference was organized by Caltrans. The Conference was facilitated by Navigant Consulting, Inc.

This report summarizes the "lessons learned" and best practices resulting from participant discussion and consensus of this three-day conference.

Objective of the Conference

The objective of this conference is to share ideas, answer questions, alleviate concerns, share lessons learned, discuss continuous quality improvement, and develop best practices for PL. FHWA and Caltrans developed the agenda to:

  • Define Plain Language (PL);
  • Quantify the extent and applicability of PL conversion to construction contract specifications;
  • Determine the status of PL conversion;
  • Perfect the process for converting documents to PL;
  • Learn how to build consensus and acceptance of PL internally and with industry, local agencies, and other stakeholders;
  • Assess the impact PL has on bid books, project advertising, and policy development;
  • Understand PL implementation;
  • Identify the best ways to train users of PL;
  • Assess the risk of PL conversion to project delivery;
  • Develop methods to implement continuous qualify improvement; and
  • Implement best practices and lessons learned of DOTs that have converted to or are in the process of converting to PL.

The conference agenda is in Appendix A. Items on the agenda but not addressed in this report are in Appendix B.

Background - Why Convert to Plain Language?

Many DOTs have, are, or are thinking about converting part or all of their construction documents to PL. Different states are motivated by different factors including:

  • Requests from industry for "user-friendly" documents;
  • Executive orders or directives;
  • Legislative mandates;
  • The recognition that the quality of construction documents is a risk to delivery of construction projects; and
  • The desire to make contract documents more clear, concise, and easier to use, resulting in fewer disputes and lower costs.
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Updated: 06/27/2017
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000