Introduction & Overview
Methods & Specifying
Defining the Scope of Work
Specification Language and Writing Style
Writing Materials Specifications Clauses
Writing Installation & Applications Clauses
INTRODUCTION & OVERVIEW
The industry standard for specification organization and writing style is the
Construction Specifications Institute's (1) (CSI) Manual of Practice, which has evolved
for more than 30 years. The CSI Manual of Practice discusses overall organization of
contract documents. Understanding the overall organizational principles of construction
contract documents is essential to writing clear and concise specification sections
without creating conflicting requirements.
This specification writing guide
provides an overview of the concepts contained in the CSI Manual of Practice and some
application techniques used by MASTERSPEC® (2) Specification System.
Whether the insulation project is a part of a complex building project or a simple
contract that includes only mechanical insulation, these principles apply. In every case,
a contract identifies the contracting parties and defines their duties, responsibilities,
and relationships. There are usually some administrative requirements for performance of
the contract and procedures to follow during the execution of the contract. These contract
provisions may be a series of complex standard documents or may be simple provisions
written on the back of a work order.
Drawings and Specifications
complete the set of construction contract documents. Drawings communicate the quantitative
requirements and show graphically the shape, location, joining, and general arrangement of
construction. Specifications set the quality requirements for materials and workmanship.
Specifications are organized into
16 divisions. Each division is subdivided into sections, with each section divided into
three parts. For example, mechanical insulation is one or more sections in Division 15.
This organizational concept helps to locate particular information for easy retrieval.
Organized in a standard sequence, each document in the set of construction contract
documents fulfills a particular and unique function. Each document must precisely perform
its function without encroaching on the function of the other documents. This principle
avoids creating conflicting requirements within the overall set of documents and reduces
the chances for duplications and omissions. Construction contract documents organized by
this principle must be read together to obtain the complete meaning and to understand all
the requirements associated with the work or a portion of the work. Therefore, a
specification section for mechanical insulation must be read with the agreement and
conditions (if the insulation contractor is a subcontractor, both the prime contractor's
and the subcontractor's agreement and conditions apply), Division 1 specifications, and
the drawings (all drawings) to know all the requirements that apply to mechanical
The following paragraphs generally
describe the role of each document within the set of documents. Even if the project is a
simple contract without a full set of drawings and specifications, these principles remain
Contract Documents: The
entire set of documents that make up the contract. Contract documents include the form of
agreement, conditions of the contract, specifications, and drawings. They also include
addenda issued during bidding and contract modifications (such as change orders,
construction change directives, and others) issued after contract execution.
document that identifies the project, the owner, the architect and engineer, and the
contractor. Among other provisions, it briefly describes the project and includes the
contract time and amount and method of payment. This document sets the obligations of the
contracting parties. The agreement usually has several attachments, such as bonds
(performance and labor and material payment bonds) and certificates (e.g., insurance
Conditions of the
Contract: General conditions are usually standard documents that apply to
any project. Supplementary or special conditions modify the general conditions to
make them project specific. These documents set the rights, responsibilities, and
relationships for the involved parties. Along with the form of agreement, the conditions
of the contract set the requirements for the contractor to provide materials, workers,
tools, and equipment and to perform the work described in the rest of the documents. The
conditions also set the requirements for the owner and the architect and engineer to
perform certain tasks during construction (such as reviewing submittals and applications
for payment, and interrupting documents and making payments).
Division 1 -
General Requirements: The first division of the specifications, Division 1 includes
administrative and procedural requirements that apply to all the work, whether performed
by the prime contractor or subcontractors. Division 1 specifications help eliminate the
need to repeat requirements throughout the rest of the specifications. Therefore,
specification sections in Divisions 2 through 16 must be read together with sections in
Division 1 to understand all the requirements.
In Division 1, some sections
discuss the rules for product selection, such as what is meant by "or equal," if
that phrase is used in the specification. Other sections include the procedures for
submitting shop drawings, product data (also known as manufacturers' cut sheets), and
samples. Other sections set general requirements for execution of the work and procedures
for project closeout.
All these documents are important
for contractors (including subcontractors) to know and understand because they contain
requirements that apply to all work, and are included in Division 1 specifications to
avoid repeating them in every specification section describing the work. If each document
is written without encroaching on the function of other documents, it not only avoids
conflicts, duplications, and omissions, it allows specification sections to be written
without repeating information. Specification sections can focus on the technical
requirements for a particular portion of the work (e.g., mechanical insulation). Contract
provisions are omitted, in technical sections, because they are already stated in the
agreement, conditions of the contract, and Division 1 specification sections. This is the
keystone of specification writing principles.
Specification Section Numbers and Titles: The Construction Specifications
Institute (CSI) and Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) jointly publish a document
called MasterFormat© which is the master list of numbers and titles for organizing
information about construction requirements, products, and activities into a standard
sequence. In addition to other applications MasterFormat is the de facto North American
standard for assigning numbers and titles to specification sections. CSI and CSC
periodically update MasterFormat according to the changing construction industry.
MasterFormat expands the 16 divisions by assigning a 5-digit number to construction
subjects. The system of numbers is open and flexible to allow user assigned numbers for
MasterFormat has been adopted by
all Federal government agencies and the private sector design and construction industry
throughout the U.S. and Canada. ARCOM (3) uses MasterFormat to assign numbers and titles
to the sections of MASTERSPEC.
Mechanical insulation is located in Division 15Mechanical, Section 15080. The first two
digits of the section number are the division number followed by three more digits that
provide the standard location of mechanical insulation in Division 15. The benefit of this
standard location is that mechanical insulation can always be found in this location from
project to project and from region to region across the U.S. The objective is ease of
Specifiers can choose to write a
single section (15080Mechanical Insulation) or write several more narrowly scoped sections
that limit the content to particular types of mechanical insulation. For example,
mechanical insulation can be divided into three sections: Section 15081Duct Insulation;
Section 15082Equipment Insulation; and Section 15083Pipe Insulation.
Standard arrangement of
information within specification sections is the objective of the CSI/CSC SectionFormat©.
Retrieval of information continues to be the objective for this concept. Each
specification section is divided into three parts. These parts are Part 1-General, Part
2-Products, and Part 3-Execution. Each part includes particular information about the
subject of the section. These three parts are fixed in number and title and are included
in all specification sections.
Part 1 - General
supplements the "general requirements" in Division 1 sections by setting
particular requirements about the materials and workmanship included in the section. In
the case of mechanical insulation, it sets particular requirements for submittals, quality
assurance, and other administrative requirements for mechanical insulation.
Example: Division 1 Section
"Submittals" specifies general requirements for the procedures, including
quantities, distribution, and actions to be taken by each party. In the Part 1
"Submittals" Article of a specification section, particular requirements about
what to submit are specified.
Part 2 - Products
contains provisions that set the quality requirements for the products, by describing
materials, products, equipment and, if applicable, manufacturing tolerances and factory
Part 3 -
Execution specifies how the products described in Part 2 are incorporated into the work,
specifies workmanship quality requirements without dictating contractor means and methods,
and sets field quality-control testing requirements.
In each of the three parts, a
standard sequence of articles and paragraphs exists. Suggested articles and paragraphs
should be retained only if they apply to the subject of the section and, when retained,
they should be arranged in the recommended sequence. This continues the objective easy
retrieval of information.
Page layout and article and
paragraph numbering are presented in the CSI/CSC PageFormat©. This document suggests
alternative numbering schemes, recommendations for margins, spacing between articles and
paragraphs, and other format issues. The most important feature of this document is the
article and paragraph numbering schemes that provide an address for specification text.
This addressing feature helps reference information.
METHODS & SPECIFYING
Several methods exist in which to write specification requirements to describe
products. These methods are presented here in summary only, and each describes each method
in its purest sense. Most specifications employ combinations of these methods to create a
complete set of requirements.
method is a detailed, written description of the required properties of a product,
material, or piece of equipment, and the workmanship required for its proper installation.
In its purest form, proprietary information is not used. This method results in lengthy
specifications. The burden of performance of the described product, material, or
workmanship rests with the specifier. Use this method when proprietary information is
prohibited (e.g., on public-funded projects) or when adequate standards are not available
to use as references.
Nationally recognized standards are used by reference in this method to eliminate writing
lengthy descriptions. The American Society for Testing and Materials is one of many
recognized standards-producing organizations in the U.S. Standards are developed by
consensus and usually set minimum requirements that may not be sufficient to suit project
requirements. Poor standards exist with good standards, and most standards include hidden
choices that must be made and included in the citation within the specification. Such
choices include grades, types, classes, and other choices to allow for various levels of
quality and various alternative or optional attributes. Standards are constantly updated,
withdrawn, or replaced by other standards. Use of this method requires the specifier to
know the standard and to incorporate it correctly and completely within the specification.
Reliance on citations in previous project specifications without current knowledge of the
cited standard can result in inaccurate, incorrect, or obsolete references.
end result is specified in this method rather than the way to achieve the end result. A
performance specification also must include criteria by which performance is verified.
Contractors are free to use products of their choosing that can comply with the
performance requirements. The burden of performance rests with the contractor. Specifiers
should not include unnecessary restrictions on how to achieve the results.
of proprietary information provides the specifier the greatest control over product
selection. This method is the simplest and shortest to write. As with the descriptive
method, the burden of performance of the specified products rests with the specifier, and
this method limits competition. For this reason, proprietary specifications are often
prohibited on public-funded projects. Proprietary specifications can be open or closed.
Open proprietary specifications are used to allow the consideration of substitution
requests, and closed proprietary specifications are used if substitutions are prohibited.
Nonrestrictive proprietary specifications include the use of proprietary information to
set a level of quality by which other products are judged when substitutions are proposed.
This requires rules about how other products will be evaluated, who will evaluate and
decide, and how decisions will be documented. These rules are generally included in
Division 1 specifications.
THE SCOPE OF WORK
The function of specifications is to define the quality of products, materials, and
workmanship. The function of the agreement and conditions of the contract is to set
obligations for contract performance. Therefore, specification sections should not include
"scope of work" statements. These statements belong in the form of agreement.
Excluding scope statements from specifications allows specification sections to focus on
the technical requirements without encumbering them with contract requirements. This
practice avoids the problem of attempting to determine who performs each task. Division of
the work varies among contractors, depending on many factors. For the benefit of the
reader, opening articles and paragraphs in most specification sections include statements
about what is included in that section. It is similar to an "executive summary"
for a report. Avoiding assignment of the work within the specification section also allows
for more concise and direct sentence construction, and helps make the specifications
easier to read and understand.
SPECIFICATION LANGUAGE AND WRITING STYLE
Writing Style: Short, simple sentences are easier to read and understand.
Specifications are contract requirements written as communication between the two
contracting parties: the owner to the contractor. The communication in these documents is
in one direction: from the owner to the contractor. With this in mind, sentences in
specifications can be written assuming that they are directives from one party (the owner)
to another (the contractor). Sentences should be simple declarative statements. For this
reason, not only can we eliminate statements that assign work (i.e., the mechanical
contractor shall . . .), we can further eliminate the phrase: "the Contractor
shall." Style also means passive or active voice. Active voice is when the subject of
the sentence acts, but if the subject is acted on, the voice is passive. Passive voice
nearly always takes more words and is less direct. Active voice takes fewer words and is
more direct. Active voice is preferred in most cases, but is not always appropriate.
Example: If the
subject does not take action, but is something being described (such as a product),
passive voice is clearer. If the subject is "the Contractor" then the subject is
being directed to take action and the active voice is shorter and clearer.
Use terms with precise meanings and avoid jargon and ambiguous terms. Avoid the use of
abbreviations unless they are well-known industry standards or are defined in the
specification. Avoid the use of symbols. Use numerals consistently and set particular
rules for capitalization. Set rules for spelling and select a particular dictionary for
specification production. If there are optional ways to spell a word (e.g., calk and
caulk), the shorter spelling is preferred in specifications.
Grammar Rules: English
grammar rules apply. Proper sentence construction means that the subject and verb must
agree, that sentences have parallel construction for both parts of compound subject or
predicate, and that the style for nouns, adverbs, or prepositional phrases are identical.
Avoid the use of unnecessary words and the excessive use of prepositional phrases.
WRITING MATERIALS SPECIFICATIONS
Product and materials are described in Part 2-Products. When describing products, use
streamlining to make clear and concise sentences. This method employs a title (preferably
a generic, descriptive term for a product or material) followed by a colon, and then a
concise description. The title of the paragraph should match the term on the drawings used
to identify the product being described. Within the context of construction documents,
this presents concise statements and avoids duplicating requirements from the agreement,
the general conditions, and Division 1 specifications. As previously stated, these other
documents set the obligation to provide all labor, materials, tools, and equipment to
perform the work (also defined there) of the contract. Specifications do not need to
repeat these requirements. Sentences can be limited to describing products and materials.
WRITING INSTALLATION AND
In Part 3 - Execution, concisely describe the qualitative requirements for
installation and application of products described in Part 2Products. These are actions
the owner is directing the contractor to perform as a part of the work of the contract.
Use imperative mood, active voice to create concise, declarative statements. Since
specifications are communicating requirements from the owner to the contractor, the
understood subject of these sentences is "the Contractor" or "you."
Begin sentences with the action word (predicate).
Example: Install insulation
materials, accessories, and finishes with smooth, straight, and even surfaces; free of
In the example above, the subject
of the sentence is "you," which in the context of specifications means "the
Contractor." It is also important to avoid dictating means and methods.
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