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National Plain Language Peer to Peer Conference

Appendix E


Do not include specifications covered by other specifications. Examples:

No need forReason

as shown on the drawings

Drawings are part of the Contract.

at the option of the Contractor

From the Standard Specifications: "If not described in the Contract, choose the means and methods to complete the work."
(If you specify a minimum or maximum value, it is the Contractor's choice to use anything greater or less. The addition of as authorized by the Engineer creates an ambiguous specification.)

Authorization or certification of the <item needing authorization or certification> is contingent on the <item needing authorization or certification> being satisfactory to the railroad company involved.

The contract is between the Department and the Contractor. Third-party contingencies are irrelevant to the Contract.

by the Engineer (for orders, authorizations, certifications, and requests to the Contractor)

Division 100 of the Standard Specifications specifies that orders, authorizations, certifications, and requests to the Contractor are by the Engineer

Driving equipment that damages piling shall not be used; provided driving does not injure the posts; and similar "do not use methods or equipment that damage the work" clauses.

covered by Maintenance and Protection and Payment Scope in Division 100 of the Standard Specifications

in writing (for Department authorizations, certifications, approvals, notifications, and orders and for Contractor assignments, proposals, requests, subcontracts, and test results)

Division 100 of the Standard Specifications specifies that these items are in writing.

Prior to closing a roadway to traffic to accommodate bridge removal operations, the Contractor shall have all necessary workers, materials, and equipment at the site as needed to proceed with the removal work in an expeditious manner. While the roadway is closed to public traffic, work shall be pursued promptly and without interruption until the roadway is reopened to public traffic.

covered by Public Convenience in Division 100 of the Standard Specifications

satisfactory to the Engineer, as determined by the Engineer, and similar phrases and clauses

covered by Engineer's Authority in Division 100 of the Standard Specifications

specifying what happens if the Engineer fails to do something within a specified time

covered by delay definitions and delay specifications in Division 100 of the Standard Specifications

to the Engineer (for submittals and requests from the Contractor)

Division 100 of the Standard Specifications tells the Contractor to submit documents and direct questions to the Engineer.

unless otherwise permitted by the Engineer
on approval of the Engineer
if authorized by the Engineer

Ambiguous. Division 100 of the Standard Specifications covers how changes are made.

unless otherwise specified in a project-specific specification

Project-specific specifications include wording to resolve conflicts.

The Engineer's review and approval shall not waive any contract requirements and shall not relieve the Contractor from complying with federal, State and local laws, regulations, and requirements.

From Division 100 of the Standard Specifications: "The Engineer's certification does not void any Contract part."

<Work description> includes furnishing materials.

From Division 100 of the Standard Specifications: "Furnish the resources, except Department-furnished materials, required to complete the work under the Contract."


Use these common clauses and phrases. For additional common clauses, see Payment Clauses and References.

To Write

designate work as force account work

<Work description> is force account work.

say the Department does not pay for something
(Do not use for optional use of materials or equipment or for samples. See Payment Scope of the Standard Specifications for descriptions of what the Department pays for.)

The Department does not pay for < >.
The Department does not adjust payment for < >.
[Do not use at no additional cost to the Department or at the Contractor's expense.]

say one specification does not relieve the Contractor of the responsibilities in another specification

< > does not void < >.
Example: Partnering does not void any contract part.

direct the Contractor to dispose of materials

Dispose of <the material>.

submit documents to someone other than the Engineer

Submit <document> to <location>. Notify the Engineer of the submittal. Include in the notification the date and contents of the submittal.

submit drawings to the Engineer signed by a registered civil engineer

Submit drawings.

submit drawings signed by a registered civil engineer to Structure Design

Submit drawings to Structure Design.

submit drawings signed by a registered mechanical or electrical engineer to the Engineer

Submit drawings signed by an engineer registered as a(n) < > engineer in the State.

submit drawings signed by a registered mechanical or electrical to someone other than the Engineer

Submit drawings signed by an engineer registered as a(n) < > engineer in the State to <location>. Notify the Engineer of the submittal. Include in the notification the date and contents of the submittal.


Division 100

describe measurement for payment

The Department measures <how the Department measures>.

describe payment

The Department pays for <what the Department pays for>.

charge the Contractor for something

The Department deducts <these charges; the cost of this work; the cost of <modifier> work>.

Other Divisions

describe measurement for payment

<Bid item> is measured <description of measuring basis (e.g., from end to end, along the center line)>.

describe measurement for one item in the same manner as another

<Bid item> is measured as specified for <item mimicked>.

pay for one item as another (aka transfer pay clause)

<Item> is paid for as <bid item>.

include payment for one item in another (aka full payment clause)

Payment for <item to be included> is included in payment for <bid item>.

charge the Contractor for something

<These charges; the cost of this work; the cost of <modifier> work> is deducted.

NOTE: Passive voice is appropriate because Division 100 defines who measures and pays.

Division 100 of the Standard Specifications refers to the Bid Item List for bid items and measurement units.

For bid item names, place modifiers after the noun. Place modifiers in the order of increasing specificity. Examples:

Reinforcing Steel

Reinforcing Steel, Bridge

Reinforcing Steel, Bridge, Epoxy Coated

But do not use Steel, Reinforcing. Use the industry-standard term for the base term.

For headings and clauses other than measurement and payment clauses, use standard English for placement of modifiers—i.e., modifiers before the noun.

Use imperative mood. Example: Remove Bridge; not Bridge Removal

Use arabic numerals to represent locations. (Remove Bridge, Location 2; not Remove Bridge, Location B; not Remove Bridge, Location II)


To specifyUseExample

That an item must comply with a specification

<Item> must comply with <Section number, ASTM, etc.>.

High-strength bolted connections must comply with Section xxx.x.
Calcium chloride must comply with ASTM D 98.

That an item must comply with a specific part of a specification

<Item> must comply with the <material> specifications <for <referenced item>> in<Section No., ASTM, etc.>.

Anchorage devices must comply with the specifications for concrete anchorage devices in Section xxx.x.x.
Corrugated aluminum pipe inlets must comply with the material specifications in Section xxx.x.x.

That work must be performed following a specification or law

<Furnish, handle, place, test> under <section number, ASTM, law, etc.>.

Handle rock core samples under ASTM D 5079.

A reference to a Web site

For <Item> go to:
<Web address>

Submit <item> with <form name>. For the form go to:
<Web address>

For <item>, go to <Web site owner> Web site.
(Do not add Electronic copies of to the name of the item. Except in Division 100, do not specify Web site addresses in the Standard Specifications. Use Indent 1 Hanging for the address line. Do not add a space before or after the address. Provide only base addresses.)

For a current list of debarred contractors go to:

Submit your request on a Request for Contractor Staking form. For the form, go to:

For a detailed map, go to the Department's Pavement Web site.

Do not use attention is directed to or similar phrases; use direct references for required references.

Do not use in this section, specified herein, or similar phrases. Be specific and provide section number.

Use spacing as specified by the referenced organization. For an ASTM or AASHTO reference, add a space between the letter designation and the number. For a federal or military specification, do not add the letter or number-letter combination that indicates the version.


ASTM A 706/A 706M MIL-P-236
AASHTO M 314 Federal Specification TT-S-230

Refer to forms by form names. Do not include form numbers.


For a proprietary item, specify only the product's name and company's name. Do not provide company addresses and phone numbers because they may change.


Include a law if the law:

  1. States that it must be stipulated in the Contract.
  2. Provides options and the Department has chosen to specify one of the options.
  3. Provides rules but does not designate the responsibilities of each party.
  4. Is not widely known in the construction industry. Provide only enough information to alert the bidders to the basic requirements to be met. (Do not cite laws that may be imposed on contractors by other agencies for the purpose of running a business, having employees, owning vehicles, and protecting the public. Contractors are expected to know these laws.)
  5. Involves a penalty collected by the Department.

If references are not required and are only added as an aid, make them parenthetical. Example: The Contractor must be properly licensed at the time the contract is awarded (Pub Cont Code § 10164).

If the law must be included in the Contract, use exact words only if required by law.
Use the citation format described in the Universal Citation Guide. For the guide, go to:


Exceptions to Universal Citation Guide format:

  1. Do not include the name of the act (unless it is needed for clarity).
  2. Do not include CA because the Standard Specifications specifies that a referenced law is a CA law unless specified as a federal law (exception: CA Code of Regs).
  3. Do not italicize.

Federal Law Abbreviations

United States CodeUSC
Code of Federal RegulationsCFR

CA Statute Abbreviations

Business and ProfessionsBus & Prof Code
CivilCiv Code
Civil ProcedureCiv Pro Code
CommercialCom Code
CorporationsCorp Code
FinancialFin Code
Fish and gameFish & Game Code
Food and AgriculturalFood & Agri Code
GovernmentGovt Code
Harbors and NavigationHarb & Nav Code
Health and SafetyHealth & Safety Code
InsuranceIns Code
LaborLabor Code
Military and VeteransMil & Vet Code
Public ContractPub Cont Code
Public ResourcesPub Res Code
Public UtilitiesPub Util Code
Streets and HighwaysSt & Hwy Code
VehicleVeh Code

CA Regulation Abbreviations

CA Code of RegulationsCA Code of Regs

Other abbreviations can be found in Appendix C of the Universal Citation Guide.

For a CFR, do not include the section symbol.


ReferenceCitation meaning

The purpose of this form is to collect data required under 49 CFR 26.

Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 26

Under 49 CFR 26.13(b) . . .

Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 26.13(b)

29 USC § 201 et seq. applies to this Contract.

Title 29 of the United States Code, Section 201 and the following

The State makes the partial payments under Pub Cont Code § 10264.

California Public Contract Code, Section 10264


15.1 Capitalization

Capitalize the following terms where used as defined in the Standard Specifications:

Bid Item List Department Structure Design
Contract Engineer Transportation Laboratory
Contractor State

Capitalize the Bidder. Do not capitalize a bidder.

Capitalize section where used with a number (CSI).

Capitalize the following terms as used in the reference (ASTM):


Capitalize each main word of a form name.

Use ALL CAPS only for 1st- and 2nd-level headings.

15.2 Commas

Use the serial comma (CMOS 6.19).

Use only technically necessary commas. Do not use a comma just to indicate a pause.

15.3 Emphasis

Use bold type only for table titles, headings, and definitions.

Do not use bold, caps, underlining, quotation marks, or italics for emphasis.

15.4 Font

Use 10 point in tables.

For a punctuation mark between roman and italic text, use the font of the main or surrounding text (CMOS 6.3).

15.5 Parentheses

Use parentheses only for:

  1. Law citation references
  2. Abbreviations

Do not enclose in parentheses information that is essential to the specification. For example, do not use parentheses as shown in the following sentence:

Training is allowed in lower level management positions (such as office engineers, estimators, and timekeepers) if the training is oriented toward construction applications.

15.6 Spaces

Use 1 space after each period and colon (CMOS 2.12).

Use 2 spaces between a heading number and name.


Use an abbreviation if it is either of the following:

  1. Shown in:
    • 1.1. Section 110 of the Standard Specifications
    • 1.2. Appendix C of NIST Handbook 44
    • 1.3. Collegiate dictionary
  2. More familiar to the reader than its spelled-out form


  1. Do not use an abbreviation with a superscript.
  2. Do not use min except in tables
  3. If in doubt about the familiarity of the abbreviation to the reader, define the abbreviation.

Except as previously provided, avoid abbreviations (CSI); however, you may use an abbreviation if the abbreviation is in a referenced standard.

You may use a Department-unique abbreviation only if it is used 3 or more times; but do not use an abbreviation if only a few letters are eliminated. For example, QC is defined, and only 6 letters are eliminated by using QCM instead of QC manager; therefore, do not use QCM.

Avoid using an abbreviation in a heading.

Use abbreviations in tables where practical.

In the Standard Specifications, define Department-unique abbreviations in Division 100.

In a project-specific specification, define an abbreviation at its 1st occurrence (CMOS 15.2).


Define a term:

  1. Not industry standard
  2. With multiple meanings and the term can reasonably be interpreted multiple ways

If the term is defined in a Means Illustrated Construction Dictionary, do not define it.

Avoid using the term being defined in the text of its definition.

Avoid beginning a definition with an article.

List definitions in alphabetical order.

Capitalize the term only if it is capitalized in the text (CMOS 2.28).

End each definition with a period.

Use bold type for the word being defined.

Use a colon followed by 1 space between the word being defined and the definition.

Use Hanging (definition) style.


signal head: Assembly containing 1 or more signal faces.


Use keyboard symbols. If you need additional symbols, use the command insert symbol.

In addition to numerals, punctuation marks, and mathematical signs and symbols, use the following symbols in text:


& (in law citations)


Use symbols in tables where practical.


Use numerals for quantities, sizes, measurements, and similar entities. Exceptions:

  1. Use a word at the beginning of a sentence.
  2. If numbers are used to define both size and quantity, use a word for the quantity (three 1/2-inch holes; not 3 1/2-inch holes).
  3. Use million and billion.

Use arabic numerals unless roman numerals are used in a referenced document or detail; in which case, match the document or detail.

Use ordinal numerals where possible. For example, 1st, 2nd, 23rd; not first, second, twenty-third; 2nd paragraph; not paragraph 2. Do not use superscripts. (Make sure Microsoft Word is not set to automatically superscript.)

Use a 0 in the unit place of a number less than 1 (0.2; not .2).

Use commas (not spaces) in numerals containing 4 or more digits (CMOS 9.22).

Do not add a space between -, +, or ± and its associated numeral when these signs are used to modify the numeral rather than combine 2 numerals (CMOS 14.14).


Do not repeat measurement unit (e.g., 2 by 4 inches; not 2 inches by 4 inches).

Use by for dimensions 2 by 4 inches, not 2 x 4 inches (CSI).


Introduce an equation as you would a list.

Use the letter x for a multiplication sign.

Use a slash for a division sign.

Use a space before and a space after a mathematical sign except a division sign.

Avoid the use of sub- and superscript fonts.

Simple equations may be used within text. Simple equations may be written with words. For consistency, use sum, difference, product, and quotient instead of using mathematical operators.

Display more complicated equations on a separate line clear of text.

Italicize variables.

Introduce the variables with where followed by a colon.

Define the variables.

Use Indent 1 Hanging style.


Use the following equation to calculate the air-dry weight:
W = (A x 62.3)/(B - C)
W = air-dry weight, lb/cu ft
A = 90-day weight of the cylinder as dried, lb
B = saturated, surface-dry weight of cylinder, lb
C = suspended-immersed weight of cylinder, lb

Avoid using Microsoft Word's Equation Editor. If you must use Equation Editor, perform the command Unlink Fields to convert the equation into text format.


Use chemical names; avoid using chemical formulas.


Do not use super- and subscript fonts (1-1/2, not 1½) (CSI).


Use an abbreviation instead of a word where used with a number. Exceptions (CSI):

  1. Spell out feet where inches are not used (8 feet).
  2. Spell out inches where feet are not used (8 inches).
  3. Where feet and inches are both used, use symbols (8'-8" or 8'-2-1/2").
  4. Spell out time measurements (year, hour).

Exception: You may use ft for foot or feet and in for inch or inches in nonheading table cells.

Use a space between a number and an abbreviation (CMOS 7.90).

Use a hyphen between a number and an unabbreviated measurement unit if the unit is an adjective before a noun. Use a space if the unit is after a noun.

Use a hyphen between combination measurements (8'-2") (CSI).

In measurement abbreviations, omit periods (NIST).

For temperatures, use degrees in text (CSI) and the degree symbol in tables. Use a space between the numeral and the degree symbol (NIST).

In text: 72 degrees F 22 degrees CIn tables: 72 °F 22 °C

Use military time for traffic operations; otherwise, use civilian time (agreement with Traffic).

For civilian time, use midnight and noon instead of 12:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m.

Examples from CMOS 9.42 through 9.44:


11:00 p.m.





2400 or 0000

12:01 a.m.


2:38 p.m.


For periods that are not dependent on weather (submittals, notifications, review times, etc.), use days or business days, not working days.

Use one of the following:

  1. Days for specifying periods over 5 days
  2. Business days if specifying periods 5 days or less

Do not specify time periods in weeks or months.

Use 7 days for 1 week; 15 days for 2 weeks; 5-day increments for over 15 days. For technically related time periods, this rule does not apply if precision is needed (curing periods).


Do not repeat percent in ranges and tolerances.

Don't saySay

2 percent to 4 percent

2 to 4 percent

3 percent ±1 percent

3 ± 1 percent


Follow USPS recommendations.


Mailstop Code
Attention Line
Business/Firm Name
Delivery Address Line
City, State, ZIP + 4

MSC 43
1727 30TH ST
SACRAMENTO CA 95816-7005

To keep the address together on 1 page, place the address in a single-cell, borderless table.


(area code) space xxx hyphen xxxx (CMOS 6.82)


In text, indicate a range that includes the endpoints by using the words from and to. Do not repeat the measurement unit.


Don't saySay

10 inches to 14 inches

from 10 to 14 inches

In tables, indicate a range by using a en dash.


Show slopes like this: 2:1 (horizontal:vertical)


For tolerances, add a space on each side of ± (CMOS 14.58).

Example: 4.2 ± 0.1 inches


Avoid using the following in the introduction to inclusive lists.

Don't saySay

Miscellaneous metal consists of the following:

Miscellaneous metal consists of:

Capitalize the first word of each item in a list.

Use a period at the end of each item in a list if an item is a complete sentence.

All items in a list apply unless the items are specified as choices (Division 100 of the Standard Specifications); therefore, if the list is not inclusive add one of the following, either of the following, any of the following, or other phrase that specifies how the items apply.

Avoid beginning items in a list with articles; avoid ending the introduction to a list with an article. Although they may be needed to make a grammatically correct statement, a, an, and the are often not needed in lists. Lists with or without the articles provide the same information, but the lists are crisper without the articles.

Don't saySay


  1. A pen
  2. A pencil
  3. A calculator


Bring a:

  1. Pen
  2. Pencil
  3. Calculator


  1. Pen
  2. Pencil
  3. Calculator

Space and number lists as shown in the following example:

Specification writing requires:

  1. Familiarity with:
    • 1.1. Material properties
    • 1.2. Construction procedures
  2. Knowledge of contract law
  3. Proficiency in English because using words incorrectly:
    • 3.1. Creates confusion
    • 3.2. Costs time and money
    • 3.3. Reflects poorly on the Department
  4. Mastery of punctuation


Display tabular work as shown Table 32:1. Introduce a table as you would a list. If you are referring to a table from somewhere other than the introduction, refer to it by its number; e.g., shown in Table 32:1.

Table 32:1 Table Parts

Column heading

Column heading

Column heading

Column subheading

Column subheading

Row headinga

This entry is an overrun entry.

Row heading


NOTE: A general note applies to the table as a whole.
aUse alphabetic superscripts to reference notes to specific table elements.

Number the table with the section number in which the table appears. Include (RSS) for a revised standard specification. Include (PSS) for a revised project-specific specification. If a section contains more than 1 table, follow the number (or type designation for an RSS or PSS) with a colon and the sequential number of the table within the section.

Table 32:2 Table Numbering
SectionNumber of tables in sectionSpecification typeTable designation






101.5:1 for the 1st table in the section
101.5:2 for the 2nd table in the section




101.5 (RSS)




107.2.8 (PSS):1 for the 1st table in the section
107.2.8 (PSS):2 for the 2nd table in the section

Do not use outside borders.

Use 1/2 point gridlines between cells.

Make the table no wider than the paragraph width. Horizontally center the table on the page.

If the table is less than the paragraph width, center the table.

Center 2 hyphens in a cell with no data.

Add a line space before and after the table. If the style of the text before the table is Normal, do not add an additional space. (A space after the paragraph is built into the style Normal.)

If a simple list does not adequately provide a clear product, consider using an if-then table. The example below is from plainlanguage.gov with the format slightly modified to be more consistent with the preceding guidance. Refer to plain language Web sites for other examples, but use the format described in this guide.

Table 32:3 Forest Management Deductions
If . . .and . . .then the percentage of the deduction is . . .

a tribe requests an increase in the deduction through a tribal resolution

they send us a written request

the percentage requested by the tribe.

an authorized tribal representative requests a decrease in the deduction

an authorized tribal representative requests a decrease in the deduction

the percentage requested, with a one percent minimum.

an authorized tribal representative requests a waiver of the deduction

we approve the waiver


none of the above conditions apply

the percentage in effect on November 28, 1990, or 10 percent, whichever is less.

You read the ellipses in the column headings as if they were replaced with the text below the column headings.

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Updated: 07/25/2017
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