Specifications have taken a variety of formats in the building construction industry. Some are more formal than others. Sometimes, specifications are written simply on contract document drawings or in a style that reads like a simple paragraph or just a reference to a model number of a product. Elsewhere, more structured formatting is beneficial and recommended for clarity and legal contract reasons.

The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) has a structured formatting system that is used by many agencies and specification writing services. One of the most common formats is the three-part specification. This format is actually part of the "SectionFormat" category in CSI's hierarchy of formats. The formats that are part of the CSI system are as follows:

Uniformat. This format organizes construction information by categories of identifiers and titles of systems and assemblies based on function.

MasterFormat. This format provides a standardized system of numbers and titles for specification sections dealing with procurement and contracting requirements and specifications. MasterFormat contains Division 00 through 49.

SectionFormat. This format establishes a three-part structure that helps organize text within a specification section.

PageFormat. This format standardizes the arrangement of text on a page, organized in a manner that is clear, easy to use and read, and is flexible for use with most production techniques and software programs

Although the CSI MasterFormat appears to be organized with titles that sometimes align with the construction trades, understand that it is not the intent of the contract documents to define the work of individual trades. The contractor is responsible for dividing the work among the subcontractors and suppliers as necessary to fulfill its agreement with the owner.


When focusing on the three-part format of the SectionFormat, keep in mind that in order to make the contract document specifications clear, concise, complete, and correct, it is essential to place statements in the proper part of the specification section. The descriptions of the three parts of the SectionFormat are given in theCSI Project Resource Manual - Manual of Practice, 5thEdition, which can be obtained from CSI through its website (www.csinet.org):

Part 1 - General. "Describes administrative, procedural, and temporary requirements unique to the section. PART 1 is an extension of subjects covered in Division 01 and amplifies information unique to the section." This section addresses topics such as definitions, system descriptions, submittals, quality assurance, delivery and storage, sequencing and scheduling, warranty, system startup, owner's instructions, commissioning, maintenance, and other general aspects relating to the work of the specific specification section.

Part 2 - Products. "Describes products, materials, equipment, fabrications, mixes, systems, and assemblies that are required for incorporation into the project. Materials and products are included with their quality requirements," This section describes products by identifying such things as the manufacturers allowed, materials, components, accessories, finishes, and other aspects of the product. This part of the specification section is written with method of specifying (such as performance, descriptive, reference standard, or proprietary) that describes the product(s) required in a manner that allows the contractor to understand what is required.

Coordinate information specified in this section with information that may be shown on the contract documents. In its pure form, information in contract documents should only be provided and shown in one place in the contract documents to avoid conflicts in communication of information. This requires practice and a clear understanding of how the contract documents and specification work together as a whole unit in the agreement between the owner and contractor. Duplication of information on a drawing and in the specification can create confusion and inconsistency that not only causes potential bidding problems but can also result in construction disputes.

Part 3 - Execution. "Describes installation or application, including preparatory actions and post installation cleaning and protection. Site-built assemblies and site-manufactured products and system are included." This section discusses the installers' qualifications, examination of installation conditions, preparation and protection of the installation, construction techniques, interface with other work, repairs, cleaning, demonstration of the work, and other issues related to the installation. Part 3 can be used to describe parts of the installation more clearly than shown on details on a drawing.

For a more complete understanding of contract document specification formatting, refer to theCSI Project Resource Manual.