Construction Document Templates

How to Read a Construction or Building Specification?

This article relates to Australian architectural, building, interiors, landscape projects of any size or type, be it housing, multi-residential, industrial, commercial.

All building industry participants should be able to read construction or building specifications, but some more so than others.

Specification readability depends largely on the master specification it was edited from. Purchased masters (created by a business dedicated to that purpose) are best used, but their readability varies.

Some designers use their self-created master, some use a previously purchased master but it’s not updated, some use past project specifications as a master, diluting spec quality. Readability of the resulting specs in these cases can be sub-par.

Specification content also affects readability. Content should be just typical, often mundane detail that repeats everyday on building sites. Project-specific detail needs to be on drawings and in schedules – put in the spec, it can confuse things and hide things.

Specification are very wordy so they need to have a predictable and understandable structure. Sections (chapters), except the preliminaries, need to be identical in format.

Common detail needs to be in the common sections, which in ArchiAssist are; section 1 (preliminaries), section 2 (fixing & sealing) and section 3 (metalwork). Common detail is also in each sections ‘general’ sub-section.

Common detail is not repeated, but referred to regularly. Spreading it throughout the spec can create confusion. All detail should be easy to find, including specific trade detail.

People search for specifics in a likely section. A good spec has only a few pages per section which helps visual scanning for a thing. If it is not found, a ‘related detail’ clause at the start of that section should locate it.

Specific detail needs to be in one place, not spread about. If related detail applies to something, it needs a cross-reference to that related detail.

Finally, specs are very wordy and defined words are used to help communicate meaning. Defined words have to be italicized. You need to know when you see a defined word. All general conditions of contract and the BCA and NCC use them.

This article speaks of fundamentals that affect readability, as does many other small things of a writing quality nature. Readability aids the whole documentation, construction, and building process. It is worth the effort to find and use a readable specification.

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