Understanding product data sheets and master guide specs

The master guide specification section is probably the single most important tool the specifier uses when developing a project manual. By the time the project manual is being developed, the design team members have a fairly good idea of all the products (or at the very least, product types) they need to include in the specifications.

Whether an independent specification consultant or an employee of a large design firm, everyone wants their project manuals to look as professional as possible. They also want their manuals to follow a standard format that will be easily arranged and familiar to those reading them. Since this instant comprehensibility saves time and money, so most of the better specification writers follow three recognizable, accepted formats—all jointly published and maintained by CSC and CSI:

  • MasterFormat, to arrange the specification sections in the project manual;
  • SectionFormat, to arrange the subject matter within each of the specification sections; and
  • PageFormat, for the style of each page in each specification section in the project manual.

Most specifiers use a base document that is either an office master specification system or a commercially available one to which they subscribe on a regular basis. They supplement these master specification systems with manufacturer’s guide specification sections that also need to follow those three formats.

Although the manufacturers’ guide specifications can emphasize specific products, models, and trade names, they should be written in such a way they can be made more generic with a few keystrokes. Many large, publicly funded organizations want to see the specs written generically or at the very least in a non-proprietary way. Making it easy for the specifier to use the master guide specification section in this way may not get the manufacturer’s name in that particular project manual, but the specifier will not forget how easy the document was to work with.

In today’s construction industry, there are many manufacturers with similar, if not identical, products. The company that has its product specified in the project manual has a definite advantage over the one who wants to have its product come in as a substituted or another accepted material. When all other things—price, quality, availability, ease of maintenance, and warranty—are considered equal, the decision to incorporate a manufacturer’s guide spec into the project manual may come down to the decision on whose section is easiest to work with. This choice could well be based on whose specification section is written in such a way it can be incorporated into the project manual with the least amount of effort.

Neither technical product data sheets nor master guide specification sections should be primarily intended as sales marketing tools—their main function must be to assist the specifier in incorporating the manufacturers’ products into the project manual. Specifiers are no different from anybody else. If there is an easier way to do something and still end up with the same quality at the end, then that is the route to be taken.

Still, one must remember getting specified does not always result in making a sale. However, manufacturers have a better chance of making a sale when their products are specified than when they are not…

TDTom Dunbar, FCSC, RSW, CSI, is an independent specification writer specializing in writing manufacturer’s guide specification sections and technical product data sheets for the North American construction industry. He can be reached at tdsquared@speccoach.com.

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  1. Tom – Excellent article. Really explains what a specifier is looking for when it comes to manufacturer literature – and more importantly, how manufacturers should perceive their role as being expert resource providers to the design community. Thanks for getting the Word out there.

  2. Hi Tom. Great article, but you skimmed over some other aspects of great value to the entire project team – namely “risk”. An informed designer won’t choose a product that’s inappropriate for its role. Specifying proper installation requriements will help insure the product is installed properly. Master guide specs help mitigate the risk of an inappropriate product being used, or the correct product being installed incorrectly from failing – benefiting both the owner and manufacturer..

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