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Published on 17 August 2017 10:48

An Introduction to Specification Writing

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Key Learning outcomes
  • What is a specification?
  • Why write a specification?
  • Types of specification
  • Developing quality specifications
  • The future of specifications
Introduction
A specification is an essential document for all construction projects, helping to ensure that the constructed entity is of suitable quality and meets expected design requirements. This article has been prepared to introduce the purpose and use of specifications on construction projects. It will describe different types and ways of structuring specifications and will provide some good-practice guidelines for those developing specifications. The article will also discuss future aspects of specifications and how changes in the construction industry may affect the type and format of specifications.

1.0 What is a Specification

Specifications may mean different things to different people. The word can be used as a verb (to specify) to describe a process, or as a noun (a specification) to describe a product.

When making decisions every day about different goods and services that we wish to purchase, we are actively specifying. For example, when ordering a sandwich at a delicatessen there may be a number of options, i.e. the type of bread; whether you want the bread to be buttered; types of fillings; and whether the sandwich should be cut in half. By specifying these requirements clearly you should end up with a sandwich that is tasty and meets your approval! This process of making decisions and specifying individual requirements is also integral to good design; where determining and communicating the type, quality and form of materials and components is pivotal to achieving effective construction. This process may be informal or involve the production of a more formal document.

Specification as a noun describes a written description or a type of document. Again, we use written specifications every day. For example when buying a mobile phone, as well as looking at different brands and models, we may require additional information such as battery life, the operating system used, the quality of the camera etc., we can view all of these details in a written specification.

On construction projects the design requirements are typically presented as drawings and in document form, i.e. the project specification. The project specification can be defined as, ‘a document, the main purpose of which is to define the materials and products to be used, the standard or work required, any performance requirements and the conditions under which the work is to be executed’. The project specification should ideally be developed as an integral part of the design process and a fully detailed specification should be issued as part of a completed design and should form part of the contract documentation.

As well as describing what a specification is, it is also worth noting what a specification does not include. The project specification is a written description and as such, in most cases it should not include graphical or geometric information, this is best represented in drawings and models. The specification generally does not include information on quantities of materials or products, this is better expressed in schedules or on a bill of quantities.
Specifying the perfect sandwich!
Specifying the perfect sandwich!
 
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