Letters Abbreviations

When Should You Use Abbreviations and Acronyms?

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

Do not use them….

at all…

ever!

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

Our consultancy business, Hewitt Decipher Partnership, was recently appointed by a contractor. Our job was to prepare claims on behalf of the contractor for an extension of time and additional payment on a large project.

Part of our process is to examine the project records for evidence of what happened. We select certain documents to include in the claims as substantiation of the facts.

The Problem

We soon realised we had a problem. It was extremely hard to understand the letters, meeting minutes, progress reports, etc. The reason? They contained so many abbreviations and acronyms, it was like reading documents written in code.

Even responses to our requests for information from the contractor were confusing because of this same problem. Maybethe contractor was encouraged in this. Because, at the beginning of the Employer’s Requirements, there was a list of no less than 271 abbreviations used in the document.

I was very disappointed to note and surprised that even an organisation such as FIDIC, who purport to draft contract conditions that are easily and clearly understood by engineers, has slipped into this unprofessional 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.

Comprehension is Key

It’s so important to remember that, when drafting formal documents, firstly they should be 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. These people have no prior knowledge of the project and in some cases may not be experienced in the subject matter. Peppering a document with abbreviations and acronyms that only the 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 and understand isolated sections. Therefore, if they come across something referred to as “PL3” in the document they will have to break off from what they are reading to search for a meaning. This does not make the reader’s job easy. It may lead to confusion or misunderstanding, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be trying to achieve.

Why Is This Happening?

So, why do the drafters of documents think that the use of abbreviations and acronyms is a good thing? I can only think that typing “PL3” instead of “Podium Level 3” saves around two seconds of typing time. The authors give their two seconds a higher level of importance than a reader being able to understand what they have typed. Well, here is a top tip for lazy typists:

If you have to refer to “Podium Level 3” many times in your document, type “PL3” in your draft. Then, use the MS Word, sorry, 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 a the beginning of this blog:

Do not use abbreviations or acronyms – at all! – ever!

If you’d like to learn more about how to write effective documents and achieve success with your claims, check out our Construction Claims E-courses.