Submissions and Submittals

By Maeve Maddox

Scott asks:

Would you comment on the differences in the nouns “submittal” and “submission” to denote a document submitted to someone or, perhaps, uploaded to a website?  Which is better and under what circumstances? The major sources, Strunk and White, Chicago, for example, don’t mention them.  I prefer the concrete submittal because the word submission has so many other meanings, but I’m having a hard time proving it.

The OED has a very meagre entry for the word submittal: “The act of submitting.” It offers a single example, from an American source dated 1888 that refers to “a letter of submittal.”

Merriam-Webster gives the word the same short shrift: “an act of submitting.”

In legal use submission has four possible meanings:

agreement to abide by a decision or to obey an authority
reference to the decision or judgement of a (third) party
the referring of a matter to arbitration
a theory of a case put forward by an advocate

And, of course, submission can mean the action of submitting to a conquering power.

In its well-established general sense, submission means “the act of submitting a matter to a person for decision or consideration.”

Although absent from the two dictionaries cited above, the word submittal does enjoy a specialized use among architects and construction managers. Answers.com offers these definitions:

Submittals in Construction Management are shop drawings, material data, and samples. Product data submittals, samples, and shop drawings are required primarily for the architect and engineer to verify that the correct products will be installed on the project.

Architecture: materials such as samples or manufacturers’ data that are submitted to the architect for approval; usually a requirement of the contract documents.

The reader’s objection to the use of submission is that it has “so many other meanings.” This is not a very strong basis for objection. A great many of the words we use have many meanings. English speakers are used to rolling with the punches. For example, no one is going to misinterpret the meanings of the following sentences:

Caesar sought the submission of the Gauls.
My novel submission has been accepted by Harper-Collins.

Context is all.

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7 Responses to “Submissions and Submittals”

  • Kathryn

    Actually. . .I read “novel submission” as “unusual submission”–so it is possible to misinterpret that latter sentence. But why even include “submission” in it? “My novel has been accepted by Harper Collins” is surely sufficient?

  • Maeve

    I see that my example is ambiguous, but I believe that my point about submission vs submittal remains unchanged.

  • Cecily

    @Kathryn: Surely submitting a novel to a publisher is very different from the publisher accepting it?

  • Cecily

    Grr. If only one could edit one’s posts. Sorry, Kathryn, I entirely agree with you. (I read the post earlier and just checked in for comments without rereading the original post carefully enough. Lesson learned.)

  • Kathryn

    Grin–agreed, Maeve, your point was clear. . .and valid. And, Cecily, yes, I am told that there is a huge difference between submitting it to the publisher and having it accepted by the publisher. As I haven’t a creative bone in my body, it’s not something I’ll ever experience for myself, but I gather that having it accepted is downright intoxicating.

  • Harvey Levine

    Nice piece. Perhaps because of architects’ usage, those applying for land use approvals make “submittals”.

  • bwik

    I think the author misses the point here. “Submittal” is a curious substitute for the extremely common “submission” in the context of submitting a job application. But a few large firms are now using it that way. This is one of those business-speak abominations that ruin our language, and perhaps our world.

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