Hoorah! Not for Santa clauses (!)… instead I am referring to the means contact writers have for splitting the huge amount of data in a construction contract into manageable chunks.

From studies by Miller in the fifties, it has long been known that we have a limited span of working memory and also a limited span of absolute judgment.

What should you do?

If we want a contract user to be read, understand and process the responsibilities it has, we need to:

  • order contract information and terms into themes.
  • drip feed information slowly, rather than bombard the reader immediately – this is why many of the contracts I write start with the data for the project in a table format – it provides the who, what, why, when, how, and how much in one single page.
  • delete all extraneous data that interferes with reading and understanding the core clauses – this is why my contracts start with a framework of 500 words not 50,000.
  • chunk information into meaningful categories – this is why I use clause headings which are really clear about the content, not just typical boilerplate jargon.
  • structure terms so start with key obligations – my contracts start with two sections outlining the key obligations of the two parties. This recognises that the primacy effect means that readers will remember the first sections of a contract better than the middle.
  • provide different methods of understanding key principles  – this is why my latest project, creating a new suite of building contracts for the Federation of Master Builders, includes in the consumer contract a project timeline to illustrate how cancellation, changes and instruction can alter the works period. It also embeds guidance notes underneath the relevant clause so there’s no flicking backwards and forward, with the risk of losing your thread or getting overwhelmed.

We can all design data so it serves the user not just the traditions of the writer.

What would you like from your contracts to make them easier to read, understand and use?

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