I have one simple piece of advice about using abbreviations and acronyms in claims, responses, contractual letters, reports, or in fact, any important communications on your project:

Don’t use them. At all. Ever!

Let’s consider a real-life example of why this is so important.

In my work as a consultant, I was recently appointed to prepare claims on behalf of the Contractor for an Extension of Time and additional payment on a large project.

I began with an examination of the project records for evidence of what happened and to select certain documents to include in the claims as substantiation of the facts.

I quickly realised I had a problem – the letters, meeting minutes, progress reports, etc. were difficult to understand, largely because they contained a number of abbreviations and acronyms. It was as if the documents were written in code.

Responses to our requests for information from the Contractor were confusing for the same reason. Maybe the Contractor was encouraged to do this because, at the beginning of the Employer’s Requirements, there was a list of no fewer than 271 abbreviations that were used in the document.

I have also been disappointed, and quite frankly surprised, to note that even an organisation such as FIDIC, who purports to draft contract conditions that are easily and clearly understood by Engineers, has slipped into this practice. The 2017 editions of the various FIDIC contracts use several abbreviations including “DAAB”, “EOT”, “FPC”, “IPC”, “NOD” and “QM”.

Do you know what all of these terms mean?

No?

Well, neither did I, until I looked them up in the Definitions section.

When drafting formal documents, it is so important to remember that they are not supposed to be only fully understood by your opposite number on the project when he or she receives the communication in a couple of days’ time, but also by someone such as a person in the addressee’s head office, an adjudicator, an arbitrator or a judge, who has absolutely no prior knowledge of the project and in some cases is even not technically experienced in the subject matter. Peppering a document with abbreviations and acronyms that only personnel who are intimate with the project can understand is not going to achieve the necessary clarity.

Some people, including the drafters of the FIDIC 2017 editions, mistakenly think that including a list of abbreviations and acronyms at the front-end of the document is acceptable.

I disagree. Why?

Because people tend not to read all documents from front to back like a novel, but often only need to refer to and understand isolated sections. Therefore, if they come across something referred to as “PL3” in the document they will have to stop to search for the meaning. This makes the reader’s job more difficult and may even lead to confusion or misunderstanding, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be trying to achieve.

So, why do the drafters of documents from simple letters to lengthy specifications think that the use of abbreviations and acronyms is a good thing? Well, the only thing that I can think of is that typing “PL3” instead of “Podium Level 3” saves around 2 seconds of typing time and they give this a higher level of importance than a reader being able to clearly understand what they have typed.

Here is a top tip for lazy typists – if you have to refer to “Podium Level 3” many times in your document, you can type “PL3” in your draft document and then use the MS Word, er, Microsoft Word Find and Replace function to change “PL3” to “Podium Level 3” throughout the document.

For the sake of clear understanding, I will repeat the advice that I gave at the beginning of this blog – Don’t use abbreviations or acronyms – at all! – ever!