Saturday, November 26, 2011


I don’t think I’m especially thin-skinned about my work as a spec writer.

Point out something you want changed in one of my specs and I’ll probably change it, after making sure it’s an informed decision. After all, spec writing is a collaborative profession, integral to the production of contract documents, and I like being part of a smoothly functioning, respectful, team.

Point out an error in one of my specs and I’ll thank you for telling me. Then I’ll promptly make the correction.

Ditto for alerting me to a contradiction between one of my specs and the accompanying drawings. It’s common for production of drawings and specs to proceed simultaneously, and for differences in nomenclature between drawings and specs to be discovered during onboard and final reviews of the construction documents. So I expect to constantly make adjustments to specs in progress.

But I am very thin-skinned about a couple of words and the attitudes they reveal. The two words are “eyewash” and “boilerplate.”  

Eyewash, definition from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language:  “...nonsense, bunk.”.

Boilerplate, from Wikipedia:  “...those parts of a contract that are considered ‘standard language’.”  Even though many provisions in the contract conditions and in the specs may be standard, that doesn’t mean they’re not meant to be part of the contract’s requirements.

A speaker using either of these words seems to me to regard the specs as inapplicable, or only partially applicable, to his role in the current project, and by using them may be signalling his intention to follow the specs selectively, as he chooses.

These words also convey the speaker’s disdain for the size and complexity of the specs.  As I said in my blog post Why is the Project Manual So Big, “...the minute that any of the actors in a construction project need support for a position they’re taking, where do they look?  The spec. If the spec has information that settles the issue, everything’s fine. But if the answer can’t be found in the spec, the spec writer puts on his or her thinking cap and wordsmiths something to make the documents better on the next project.  That’s why the spec book is so big.  We spec writers get a lot of feedback.  And we’re driven by the need to strive for a loophole-proof set of construction documents. The inevitable result of such feedback is more words and more pages in the Project Manual.”

Remember those hilarious Pink Panther movies, in which the antics and incompetence of Parisian police Inspector Jacques Clousseau elicited facial tics, and worse, in Clousseau’s boss, Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus? Here’s a YouTube collection of scenes of the great actor Herbert Lom playing Inspector Dreyfus.

Calling specs “eyewash” or “boilerplate” will have a similar effect on me, and I suspect, other spec writers.

You wouldn’t want to be responsible for that, would you?


  1. I agree with you and would like to add my own pet peeve which is the use of the word "verbiage". If you look this up in the dictionary, it is a rather insulting term that indicates excessive use of words to communicate. Verbiage is the result of confused thinking, and leads to confused understanding. Good specifications writers use concise language to produce clear text.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Greta.

    I agree completely with you about "verbiage". I just don't like it. In addition to the reasons you indicate, "verbiage" has to me a contrived, pompous sound.