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Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 158).

Is there a more useless, passive aggressive word than should? 

I worked on a project that specifies a standard using “Should, Shall and May” language plus the MEP specification liberally uses the word “Should” with regards to building commissioning. 

Add a client representative that does not understand engineering or commissioning and is paranoid about being fired for making a bad decision. This person takes everything literally and hides incompetence with aggression. 

There is a name for this scenario of imprecise requirements, it is called purgatory!

If you are working on a project that has opaque specified requirements either issue a set of RFI’s and obtain clarifications or run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. 

Lets unpack why Should, Shall and May are poor word choices:


  • Meaning: Indicates but does not demand, obligation, duty or correctness.
  • Use: Passive aggressive pressure word to try and make things happen in the future or shame something past. 


  • Meaning: Expresses a strong assertion or intention and can be an instruction or obligation if so indicated. 
  • Use: As shall can be used in questions its use must be defined as required obligations in standards and specifications. 


  • Meaning: Expresses possibility. 
  • Use: IMHO, no use at all in any building or engineering specification or standard. 

Specifications, standards and codes are contractual, legal documents that carry costs and consequences. Poorly written specifications lead to legal issues and poor outcomes. They are the product of incompetence. 

Specifications, standards and codes must not be open to interpretation, they must be prescriptive. Their purpose is to instruct what is required and to what precise standard. 

If you are a specifying building engineer, just do your job and specify exactly what you want. List your specified requirements with the words Must, Will and Required. There is no room for misinterpretation when these words are used. 

While I am ranting, other b^!!$h!t words are:

  • Very – imprecise, non-specific, qualitative and useless in any report. 
  • Nearly – imprecise, non-specific, qualitative and useless in any report. 
  • Fair – useless subjective word used by moaners and losers. 

Pulling this together in a sentence that would make me run in the opposite direction: 

“The project nearly finished on time but the specification was very opaque and we had to do extra unpaid work we should have been paid for, it was just not fair.”

Bottom line, words have meaning and consequences. 

Twitter: @BLDWhisperer

Related Posts:

#131 – Reflections on Horrific MEP Spec’s ( )

#Part 111 – Information Quality & Transmission ( )

#53 – Completion, Like Beauty, is in the Eye of the Beholder ( )

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