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(6) A contractor would have an incentive for making an unbalanced bid only if it was his belief (founded perhaps on thorough local information) that the relative proportions in the Engineer's estimate would necessarily be departed from. Such might be the case in subterranean or subaqueous construction, or occasionally elsewhere.
(c) The submitting of unbalanced bids may be prevented, or discouraged, in one of five ways:
(i) State in the Information for Bidders that no unreasonable bid will be accepted. This allows argument as to the meaning of the word "unreasonable.” Sometimes a maximum or minimum unit price, beyond which the bidder will not be allowed to deviate, is fixed in advance for each item.
(ii) Require lump sum bids only. This would probably prove more costly, as each bidder would have to do a certain amount of guessing, and he would be careful to protect himself. It might also involve difficulties in properly defining the work.
(iii) Print in the proposal a fair unit price covering each uncertain item. All bids on these particular items must then be identical. This plan has not been extensively practiced, and is not regarded favorably by the average contractor.
(iv) Let the Engineer prepare a list of unit prices based on his judgment of the relative cost of each class of work; and require of each bidder that each of his unit prices shall bear a fixed ratio (which the bidder determines, and which may be of course greater or less than unity) to the Engineer's unit figure for the same item.* This is called the percentage unit plan, and is in more common use abroad than in the United States.
(v) If at all practicable, the most advantageous plan is for the Engineer to make his preliminary investigations complete and exhaustive. Referring to the foregoing illustration,
* This plan may be so modified as to provide for the rejection of all bids in which any unit price differs more than a certain percentage from the standard fixed by the Engineer.
it is readily seen that a small fraction of the $1650 spent in making borings would have been well invested.
The student should prepare:
(a) A lump sum proposal for building either a concrete culvert, or a small steel bridge (including abutments), or an earth dam; or
(b) A unit price proposal for laying a system of sewer or water pipes of various sizes, or for constructing several miles of macadam road, or for grading a tract of ground.
In each case he may assume all necessary data. Each proposal should be completed in every detail, and enclosed, with all necessary accompanying papers, in a properly endorsed envelope.
THE COMPOSITION OF SPECIFICATIONS
Nowhere is the ability to express his thoughts in clear and forcible English more necessary to an Engineer than in the preparation of his specifications.
Specifications may contain stipulations which, if enforced, would work injustice to the Contractor.
22. The two most important requisites of specifications are clearness and fairness.
23. Clearness. — A specification has been facetiously defined as "an instrument or document whose purpose is to set the Contractor guessing at the meaning of the Engineer.” Specifications many times require interpretation under unfavorable weather conditions and at the hands of unlettered men. The meaning of a sentence in the classics (a purely academic question) has not infrequently been made a subject for acrid and protracted argument. The precise meaning of a sentence in a specification should admit of no argument, as it may vitally affect the peace of mind and the fortunes of many individuals. Each sentence should therefore be so framed that no reasonable person could read into it any meaning other than that intended by the author.
Major Gillette cites the following (Engineering News, 1907, vol. 57, p. 587). “An engineer first wrote his specifications calling for different prices for excavation at different depths, clearly expressed as so much for 'less than 6 feet' so much between 6 and 10 feet and so on. He revised the specification to read so much for 'excavation less than 6 feet,' and so much for 'excavation less than 10 feet,' and so much for 'less than 14 feet,' leaving it doubtful whether or not separate prices were to be paid for different depths at the same place in a deep trench. That Engineer's client, a municipality, lost at least $180,000 on that contract, largely made possible by that change from clearness to vagueness.”
The author recalls the following sentence which he once found in sewer specifications, “After the pipe is laid the trench shall be filled in with shovels.” Whether or not the stipulation was interpreted literally he never knew.
24. Rules for Clearness.* - Observance of the following elementary rules, most of them applying with equal force to any technical composition, will lead to a degree of clearness in specification writing.
(a) Prepare an outline. Anyone who attempts an extended piece of literary composition feels at once the need of an outline. This need is emphasized in the case of such a document as a set of specifications, - it is impossible to write them without a complete and carefully prepared outline, which is designed to prevent:
(i) Repetition, in the specifications, as well as duplication between contract and specifications.
(ii) Contradiction, a far more serious defect, often growing out of the former, and one that has led to many a serious legal tangle.
(iii) Omission. All portions of the specifications are of course not of equal importance. A few are of such moment that their absence may seriously impair the usefulness of the entire document.
(iv) Illogical arrangement. This applies more particularly to the specific clauses. (See Art. 61.)
(6) Do not use long sentences. A period, judiciously used midway, may clear up the meaning of a sentence apparently obscure and involved.
(c) Use commas sparingly. Courts have been known to ignore their presence. Above all, do not construct a sentence in such form that the addition, omission or misplacement of a comma could alter the sense.
“The Contractor said the Engineer was wrong.” The addition of two commas reverses the meaning. The omission of a comma in a copy of the laws of the State of Pennsylvania recently furnished grounds for a suit resulting in the award of $850 damages.
* The student will find the study of such books as Frost's “ Good Engineering Literature” and Earle's “Theory and Practice of Technical Writing” a valuable preparation for the composition of clear specifications.
(d) Avoid the use of many-syllabled or high-sounding words. A book of synonyms will be useful. Be careful to use technical words in their exact technical meaning; if there is any doubt put in a word of explanation. In the choice of words it is well to restrict yourself to those likely to be included in the vocabulary of an ordinarily intelligent foreman.*
(e) The use of pronouns, especially of relative pronouns, should be reduced to a minimum. It is better to repeat the noun even at a sacrifice of elegance.
(1) Give directions, not suggestions. Tell the Contractor what he shall or shall not do, not that he should or should not do it. Architect's specifications are often so abbreviated as to contain very few complete sentences. "Plaster on hallways to be
etc. Fortunately the practice has not extended to engineering specifications.
(8) Aim to make your language crisp and concise. Do not strive for elegance of style or for the effect of a flow of words.
Until the past few years the language of specifications was to a great degree modelled after that commonly used in legal documents some of it verbose in the extreme.
Many of these wordy expressions may be traced back to the days when compensation for drawing up legal papers was largely dependent on the number of words they contained. The efforts of a number of clear-headed writers among the engineering profession have brought about a decided improvement in this direction, and many of the newer specifications are models of concise expression.
* To quote from “Life”:-“Use Short Words. Literary aspirants should religiously eschew polysyllabic orthography. The philosophical and philological substructure of this principle is ineluctable. Excessively attenuated verbal symbols inevitably induce unnecessary complexity and consequently exaggerate the obfuscation of the mentality of the peruser. Conversely, expressions which are reduced to the furthermost minimum of simplification and compactness, besides contributing realistic verisimilitude, constitute a much less onerous handicap to the reader's perspicacity. Observe, for instance, the unmistakable and inescapable expressiveness of onomapoetic, interjectional, monosyllabic utterances, especially when motivated under strenuous emotional circumstances. How much more appealing is their euphonious pulchritude than the preposterous and pretentious pomposity of elongated verbiage.”