Contracts may formalize important agreements and impose significant responsibilities, but that does not mean that they have to be lengthy documents written in a complicated language. In fact, contract drafting should take the opposite approach and focus on keeping things as simple as possible. Contract-related disputes that often arise end up in court because of differing interpretations and understandings. Although language, in general, s subject to interpretation (including contract terms), there are ways to avoid unnecessary ambiguities. Here are a few ways to keep contracts simple:
Keep Contract Language Clear and Concise
There is simply no room for uncertainty in contracts. If your company is entering into an agreement with another party with the expectation that they perform within a certain time frame, that must be put into writing in a clear and concise manner. Using vague parameters like “as reasonable” or “when feasible” is setting the contract up for disaster.
If your company wants all services rendered by the end of the year then specifically state what those services are, what constitutes performance, and the exact date by which completion must occur. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to be both clear and concise, and that is the precise balance that must be struck when drafting contractual agreements.
Create a Table of Contents to Expedite Referencing
In some cases, when you do not know the exact words you are seeking in a contract and thus cannot simply conduct a quick search on the electronic version, it can be beyond aggravating having to sift through page after page of a voluminous document trying to find a clause or term. A good contract has numbered and/or lettered headings and subheadings that clearly explain the content contained within that particular section, allowing viewers to quickly scan and locate the part they want.
And, with most word processing software, the use of such headings allows for the automatic generation of a table of contents. This simple addition serves as a nice summary of the document’s contents and simplifies the reviewing and referencing of a contract.
Include Tables, Charts, or Other Data-Descriptive Visual Aids as Appropriate
It can be exhausting trying to read the small, compact print that inevitably finds its way into so many contracts. And, it can be even more taxing when trying to decipher the language used to describe any quantitative aspects of the transaction. As a result, it is often advantageous to summarize pertinent mathematical or financial concepts in a table or chart. These can be embedded directly in the contract in the relevant section where the language is discussing the particular matter, or the graphical data can be included as an appendix at the end of the contract for easy referencing.
Some folks may be averse to such inclusions, fearing they will contain inaccuracies or confuse matters, but in our data-hungry society, their use has become increasingly common. These graphics simplify and condense data, and for many people, they are a welcome break from the rigors of untangling complex quantitative language. Plus, a lot of people simply prefer visual representations of information.
As we said, contracts are important documents that often convey serious consequences, but that does not mean that they have to be presented in an obscure manner. As with many matters, simpler solutions are often the best ones.