Boilerplate: not garbage

Jul 08, 2019

In this era of recycle/reuse/renew, instead of discarding boilerplate information, we should embrace it.

Oh boy, just suggesting that I will write about making a case for boilerplates produced an incendiary reaction, not unlike a battle in a Game of Thrones episode. I feel the need to clear the air: I do not support the use of boilerplate information in final proposals to be submitted!

In several previous articles, I discourage marketers and technical professionals from using such canned language. However, in this case, I am trying to establish the fact that boilerplates can, in fact, be useful in the beginning stages of a capture plan, or even an ongoing proposal effort.

Ron Dulek, author of The Elements of Business Writing, said that “clarity is the most serious communication problem in business.” To achieve the level of clarity that results in engaging write-ups, we need to go through a process, similar to how a muralist sketches their vision before ascending a scaffold to start painting. Boilerplates can be that little push that moves us along the right path. Here are some pitches for effective boilerplate uses:

  • The blank page phobia. Über creative writers, like Jim Patterson, who have series of books based on the same characters, use a framework from the previous novels for jumping into a new one. Basically, we do not have to start writing on a blank page. Starting from scratch is usually a terrifying ordeal, so make everyone’s lives easier by presenting great write-ups previously used to steer your writers in the right direction. The key is to keep a close eye on the development of the text so that the final product is not the original boilerplate you submitted for reference.
  • The chameleon effect. It is common to find boilerplates for internal processes like project management, quality control, schedule/cost control, etc. Technical professionals are extremely tempted to use them as-is, but we must remind them of the message sent to the client by doing so. The best practice is to edit these processes to match the client’s needs and requirements – showing them how we adapt instead of pushing the same thing to every client for every project.
  • The mirror, mirror on the wall scene. You could share boilerplates as locked PDF files. The idea is to have something to compare to after writing the new language for the submittal. Include the lessons learned based on past comments from reviewers of previous documents. The intelligence gained by looking in the mirror can prove invaluable.
  • The “Hello, my name is…” tag. If used correctly, your boilerplate is never used as-is and you have several versions of the same topic. It is important to label your boilerplates to make it easier to select for future uses: for example, “quality control AND stormwater AND municipality” or “project management AND new K-12 facility AND repeat client.” Redefine what boilerplates used to be – a collection of generic texts – and create a library of past successful write-ups. Give it a new name if you want.

Once more, I am not suggesting that you use boilerplates as-is in final documents, but there are ways to make them work to your advantage. In this era of recycle/reuse/renew, instead of discarding information, we should embrace it. Zig Ziglar said, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” So, use boilerplates as your starting point to greatness!

Javier Suarez is the central marketing and sales support manager with Geosyntec Consultants. Contact him at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.