What Is a Boilerplate?

The term boilerplate or boilerplate text refers to text, or a standardized document, method, or procedure. "Boilerplating" is sometimes used disparagingly to refer to a lack of originality or sincere effort. In the field of contract law, documents containing boilerplate language, or language that is considered generic or standard in contracts. This may include something like an incumbency certificate, for example.

Boilerplate documents are commonly used for efficiency and to increase standardization in the structure and language of legal documents, such as contracts, investment prospectuses, and bond indentures.

Key Takeaways

  • Boilerplate language is often standardized text you'd find across a variety of documents.
  • Boilerplate texts are often part of templates that are easily filled in and personalized.
  • The term is used in the computer world when describing code used in various programs.

Understanding Boilerplate Text

More generally, the boilerplate term is frequently used where a form or document can be reused in a new context without substantial changes to the text. 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 for every new applicant. These documents typically remain unchanged so that the parties using them are not misled into accepting unfavorable conditions that even small changes in the boilerplate text could cause.

Derivation of the Term Boilerplate

In the 19th century, a boilerplate 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 trite 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 skirt the law.

Today, businesses typically use "boilerplate clauses" designed to protect themselves. These 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 coercive or unfair.

Boilerplate Language 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. Computer programmers 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 them from scratch.

In marketing and public relations, boilerplate refers to blocks of language in marketing materials or press releases that rarely change. They are often written to express a company's mission or otherwise cast it in a positive light and are commonly added to a variety of its publications, press releases, or web pages, including the About Us page on many websites.