Format? OR Content?

When writing construction specifications what is really important the format or content? Listening to some design teams, it seems lack of consistent format generate the greatest anxiety. Why is this? Well architects are generally visual creatures. Appearance matters and consistent appearance is paramount when it comes to construction documents.  The drawing title blocks must match for every sheet. The specification headers, footers, and font must match for every section. I admit that when I check specifications formatting inconsistencies leap off the page, screaming to be fixed.

If format was not important why would CSI bother publishing industry standards?

MasterFormat®, SectionFormat™, PageFormat™

Each format plays a role, but PageFormat is the most noticeable. One of the first steps in starting every project specification is to issue a sample template. With simple instructions the entire project team should be able to produce specifications with a consistent appearance. The template shows the required headers, footers, and general format. Anyone familiar with word processing functions and styles can easily match the format and apply the format to every specification section they produce. We create and maintain a unique format template for every client. Just tell us what you want, and we will match it.

Sample specification formatting instructions Sample specification formatting instructions

Seems simple enough. Just follow the instructions. Yet, this simple activity mystifies some.

It is common to receive specifications the day they are supposed to be issued for bid, apparently with no regard for the required format. This creates a mad scramble to update the specification format, resubmit, compile, and check the result to ensure a consistent project manual. Yet this does nothing to ensure quality content.

Matching format is complicated when the owner furnishes their own documents, usually Division 00. These are custom documents and forms that rarely follow standard specifications formatting protocol. Correcting these formats is often futile. Changing the format and adding headers and footers destroys the custom forms by forcing page breaks at inappropriate locations. Besides, the documents are often furnished in PDF format, so any change requires a conversion to an editable file format - another challenge presenting its own difficulties and risk in getting the conversion correct.

Is all this angst about format really worth the trouble? Does it matter what the individual specification sections actually look like? Format obsession diverts attention from what is really important.

Personally, I am more concerned about the content than the appearance. I want to know that the specification accurately describes the project to meet the owner's requirements. If the specification happens to match the required format, it's a bonus. The font, indents, and headers? These are all irrelevant, especially when the content is incorrect or uncoordinated.

What matters to you - format or content? Hopefully, you choose content!

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