When Words Are Too Much
Contributed by Ray Gaines, FCSI
A series of posts I shared previously on my own blog (which can be read here) began as a commentary on day to day communications when I explored the notion of how the same words could have completely different meanings given context, tone of voice, body language and other emotional cues. It quickly evolved into a second post on graphic construction communication.
This post deals with overly verbose specifications I often see from consulting engineers who are often not versed in specification writing principles:
“2.2 Materials & Equipment: standard components, of regular manufacture for this application. All systems and components shall have been thoroughly tested and proven in actual use. The commissioning requirements of this specification shall be strictly adhered to. Trane Tracer Summit ICS products are used as basis of the design. Siemens Apogee or Johnson Controls Metasys are acceptable subject to compliance with the specification”
“2.5.2 Communications: The Building Controller shall reside on the network, which is the same high-speed network as any connected workstations. The Enterprise wide network shall support the Internet Protocol (IP). Local connections of the building Controller shall be on ISO 8802-3 (Ethernet). Communications shall use Annex J of ASHRAE Standard 135-95. The Building Controller shall also perform routing to a network of Custom Application and Application Specific Controllers.”
The language I just quoted was written by a mechanical engineer as part of a building automation specification section. There is a problem with the fact that both paragraphs violate two of the four Cs of specification language promoted by CSI: clear, correct, complete, and concise. These two paragraphs are neither clear nor concise. Because they are unclear, I have no idea if they are correct or complete. They also appear to be combining prescriptive with performance specifications.
Assuming the technical content is indeed correct, the problem can be fixed by applying some basic principles espoused by the CSI in the CSI Specifications Practice Guide. The information presented should be separated into multiple (correct) locations to comply with CSI SectionFormattm. Portions of both paragraphs should appear in PART 1 GENERAL, and part of the second should be in PART 3 EXECUTION.
The remainder is correctly located in PART 2 PRODUCTS, but needs to be broken up into shorter statements using streamlined language in smaller subparagraphs to allow the reader to more easily access and understand the information.
The first paragraph could appear as follows:
2.2 Materials & Equipment
2.2.2 Basis of Design: Trane Tracer Summit ICS
The remainder of the non-superfluous information from this paragraph should appear in PART 1 GENERAL.
I could rewrite the second paragraph as well, but you get the idea. Adherence to CSI principles would facilitate communication of the information to the bidders and eventually to the contractor. Remember, communication occurs when the reader/listener understands the intent of the writer/speaker. When the information is correctly stated and presented, it is understandable by all the parties to the construction process. The CSI Education and Certification Programs are an important first step to better communication within the AEC industry.
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