What is a 'Boilerplate'

Boilerplate is a term that refers to a standardized document, method or procedure. The use of a boilerplate method is often called boilerplating, a term sometimes used disparagingly to refer to a lack of originality or sincere effort. In the field of law, boilerplate documents are commonly used for efficiency and to increase standardization in the structure and language of legal documents, such as contracts, prospectuses and indentures.

BREAKING DOWN 'Boilerplate'

More generally, boilerplates are frequently used where a form or document can be reused in a new context without substantial changes to the text. For example, a bank may use a standard contract for everyone who applies for a home loan. Bank employees and loan applicants fill in blanks or select from lists of checkboxes, depending on the circumstances, rather than create an entirely new document that addresses every detail of the situation. Typically, boilerplates remain unchanged so the parties who use them are not easily misled into agreeing to undesirable things that even small changes in the boilerplate's text could indicate.

Derivation of the Term Boilerplate

In the 19th century, a boiler plate referred to a plate of steel used as a template in the construction of steam boilers. These standardized metal plates reminded editors of the often hackneyed and unoriginal work that ad writers and others sometimes submitted for publication. The legal profession began using the term as early as 1954, when an article in the Bedford Gazette criticized boilerplates because they often included fine print designed to modify or waive provisions established by the law. In 2016, businesses typically use boilerplates that include clauses designed to protect the business. These clauses are generally not up for negotiation with customers, who often sign boilerplate documents without reading or understanding them. This type of boilerplate, written by a party with superior bargaining power and presented to a weaker party, is often called an adhesion contract in the legal profession. Courts may set aside provisions of such contracts if they find them unconscionable.

Boilerplating in the Modern World

In contemporary times, the term boilerplate is widely applied in a variety of settings to refer to a standardized method, form or procedure. For example, computer programmers sometimes speak of using boilerplate code to write a new program because modern programs can consist of billions of lines of code, and it is virtually impossible to write such programs from scratch. In marketing and public relations, boilerplates refer to blocks of language in marketing materials or press releases that rarely change. Such boilerplates are often written to express a company's mission or otherwise cast it in a good light, and are commonly added to a variety of its publications, press releases or Web pages, including the About Us page on many websites.