These guidelines are for internal University use only.  These guidelines are recommendations to help procurement team members draft clear specifications.  No third-party may rely on these guidelines.


Language: It is very important to choose the correct wording in your specifications.  Below is a chart that you must use when drafting specifications:


Word Means Advice
May An option or right; “reserves the right to…”. Use “may” to mean optional or a reserved right.
Shall “Has a duty to”; mandatory; obligation.  “Shall” only applies to either the University or the other party. “Shall” only applies to a company or person.  For example, “the contractor shall have all necessary licenses.”


“Shall” does not apply to inanimate objects, such as a building. The following use of the word “shall” is incorrect: “The building shall be open from 8 AM to 5 PM.”

Should Note: this is an inherently ambiguous word.  This word means either: 1) “must”, or 2) “preference.” Do not use the word “should.”  If you want to state that something would be nice, but not required, consider using “recommended” instead.
Must A requirement.
Will Statement of fact.




Numbers: Use digits only (e.g. “3”).  Do not use digits plus letters (e.g. “three (3)”).



Short sentences: Use short, easy-to-read sentences (avoid run-on sentences). Keep paragraphs short, too (e.g. 5-7 sentences per paragraph).  Avoid using abbreviations, acronyms, slang, or jargon. It’s OK to use abbreviations or acronyms, but only if you define them first.



Four C’s: All specifications must be:

  • Clear: Write in simple language. Avoid ambiguity or vagueness. Be sure to write specifications in a manner that isn’t up to interpretation about what you need. For example, if you want an “environmentally friendly” machine, don’t use the word “green.” Green is a color, and has no bearing on environmental standards. Instead, you might say: “Energy Star certified” or some other objective description.


  • Concise: Write complete specifications, but avoid unnecessary verbiage (for example, do not be repetitive or redundant).


  • Complete: Include all required information in the specifications. To be complete, all specifications must identify:
    • What: Identify the University’s need (e.g. goods or services). How often will the supplier perform the services or supply the goods?
    • Where: Identify where the supplier will provide the services or deliver the goods.
    • How: Identify how the supplier will perform the services or provide the goods.
    • Who: Identify who is involved at the University (e.g. how many departments, etc.).
    • Performance: Identify expectations, key performance indicators, etc.


  • Correct: Ensure that your specifications are technically accurate and apply to your project.




Active Voice: Use the active voice only. Active voice is when the subject of the sentence does the action. Using passive voice (when the subject is no longer active) leads to unclear sentences, confusion, and excess words.

For example:


Active: The cat played with the toy mouse.

Passive: The toy mouse was played with by the cat.


Active: The university must have the following…

Passive: The following items are needed by the university…



Items to think about:  Consider the following before you start writing:

  • Accessories: will you need any accessories?
  • Assembly: will assembly be required? If so, who will be responsible?
  • Color (only if this is a material/very important thing).
  • Composition (e.g. chemical composition).
  • Delivery: location of delivery. Time of delivery.
  • Design standards.
  • Dimensions of area where goods or services will be located. This is particularly useful to consider when purchasing large equipment.
  • Experience: does the supplier need a certain amount of experience?
  • Grades of materials.
  • Implementation timeline.
  • Industry standards.
  • Integration or compatibility with current systems, items, software, equipment, or processes.
  • Licenses and Insurance: does the supplier need certain licenses, insurance, or permits? Will the supplier need a contractor’s license?
  • Performance standards.
  • Response time.
  • Maintenance needs.
  • Services:
    • Length of service.
    • After-hours service required?
  • Size: the size of the items you need.
  • Software:
    • How many licenses (how many users)?
    • Will the software store FERPA, HIPAA, or other confidential information?
    • Will the software be accessible to students, faculty, or staff with impairments?
  • Standard of workmanship.
  • Trademarks/Logos: Will the supplier be using UT trademarks or logos? If so, they must be licensed and approved by the Trademark Office.
  • Training: will your department need training? If so, do you want on-site training, web-based, etc?
  • Types of ingredients.
  • Unit of measure.
  • Quantity/Amount needed.