English 101: Guidelines for Writing a Performance Work Statement
When writing a performance work statement (PWS), focus on the intended audience. Both the author and the reader must understand the PWS. A variety of personnel from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, such as those from foreign countries, will read and interpret each PWS. Moreover, offerors (usually local nationals or third country nationals in a deployed environment) will interpret words within the PWS to identify potential costs and to determine anticipated profit as well as the ability to compete with other offerors. Therefore, write the PWS with terms that are clear, simple, concise, and legally enforceable.
Style is how you express ideas in phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. Strive to present information in a concise, accurate, thorough, and logical sequence. Avoid complex words. The purpose of writing is to express, not impress.
Good writing of any type depends on natural order. Eliminate long, complicated sentences by creating two or three short, simple sentences limited to a single thought or idea. Avoid legal phrases, technical jargon, and other elaborate phrases. Strive to omit extraneous words or phrases; eliminate unnecessary words from sentences and omit unnecessary sentences from paragraphs.
A paragraph may consist of one or more sentences to state and discuss a single idea or similar ideas. State the main idea in a topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph. The topic sentence provides a base for subsequent sentences that develop and support the main idea. While paragraph length will vary, avoid long paragraphs that may crowd ideas and confuse the reader. Shorter paragraphs are more visually appealing and easier to read and understand. Number paragraphs for easy reference.
Use the active voice. In the active voice, the subject performs rather than receives the action. The active voice is clearer and uses fewer words without reducing clarity. The active voice makes the subject (the contractor) responsible and accountable for the action or performance required.
Ambiguity is the use of vague, indefinite, or uncertain terms and words. Examples of some ambiguous phrases include securely mounted, properly assembled, and carefully performed. The PWS must be free of ambiguous words or phrases such as etc., as required, as directed, good workmanship, assist, best commercial practice, including but not limited to, and as necessary. These terms are ambiguous because one cannot quantify, precisely measure, or state objectively what they mean.
Use minimal punctuation. Since the goal is to write simple, short, concise sentences, a well-written document should require minimum punctuation. When complicated punctuation is required, consider rewriting the sentence. Construct sentences so that inadvertent misplacement or elimination of a punctuation mark will not alter the intended meaning. For maximum clarity, follow the formal rules of punctuation.
Abbreviations and acronyms
Abbreviations and acronyms are a form of shorthand used to make complex terms short and precise. However, they can cause misunderstandings when the reader is from outside the U.S. or if the abbreviations and acronyms have multiple meanings; for example, CO can mean commanding officer, commissioned officer, or change order. Upon first use, use the complete term followed by the abbreviation or acronym in parentheses. When there are many abbreviations or acronyms, develop a glossary.
Use the full word associated with the symbol unless the meaning is universally clear
Spell out numbers under 10 except when they represent dimensions. Use the numeral form for figures 10 and above. Represent dimensions, degrees of temperature, percentages, and dollars and cents as numerals. One or zero should always be spelled out when used alone. When two numbers are used together to define both size and quantity, use a written word for one of the numbers (for example, six 55-gallon metal drums).
Redundancy and repetition
Avoid redundancy and unnecessary repetition. They reduce clarity and increase the likelihood of ambiguity, inconsistency, and internal contradiction.
Misused words and phrases
The following is a list of commonly misused and abused words, phrases, and terminology that when improperly applied will confuse the reader and obscure rather than clarify the requirements:
Remember, a well-written PWS:
Figure 3-1. The consequences of a poorly-written PWS for a gravel parking area.
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012