Too often in the preparation of documents for a construction project, the various individuals involved focus on their specific topic but do not consider how their documents interact and coordinate together in defining the contract requirements as provided to create a unified package of Contract Documents. The proper coordination of the “Front End Documents” is critical to the overall project success.

Construction documents are defined as the written and graphic documents prepared or assembled by the architect or engineer for communicating the project design for construction and administering the construction contact. The organization and formatting of these contract documents is the language of the construction industry. Construction documents are the means of communication between the owner, architect, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, bidders, and building officials. Just like the English language has certain rules for the organization and structure of sentences, paragraphs and punctuation, the construction industry has developed its own set of rules for the effective communication through construction documents.

Various industry associations have developed standardized approaches for the location of project subject matter, for both written and graphic documents, to greatly simplify the retrieval of information and reduce the possibility of conflicts, discrepancies, errors, and omissions. Written project requirements are organized in an orderly fashion, following:

  1. The Project Manual Concept;
  2. Uniform Location of Subject Matter (AIA Document A521); and  
  3. MasterFormat, Master List of Numbers and Titles for the Construction Industry (Construction Specification Institute).  

Properly assembled, the Project Manual with each document in its assigned location will facilitate checking, coordination, and communications.  

Project Manual Concept

The document commonly referred to as the specifications normally contains much more than the name implies. The procurement requirements, contracting forms, and conditions of the contract are usually included even though they are not part of the “specifications.” In most cases, these are prepared by, or in coordination with, the owner, the owner’s legal counsel, and the owner’s insurance advisor.

This information, along with the specifications prepared by the architect or engineer is, in fact, a collection of certain written construction documents and project requirements whose content and functions are best implied by the title Project Manual. The Project Manual concept provides an organizational format and standard location for all the various construction documents involved, of which the actual specifications are only a part.

On projects using the services of a construction manager as an advisor, which is the construction manager’s role on public projects in Ohio, the construction manager will also have a role and other responsibilities for preparing portions of, including Division 1, and assembling the Project Manual.

Uniform Location of Subject Matter

One of the basic concepts of construction documents is to say everything once in the correct location and with the appropriate cross-references. Addressing the same subject matter in more than one location leads to confusion and unanticipated legal consequences. In many cases, the exact same language may not be used in each repetition. Saying the same thing in different locations may create conflicting statements, may create a dilution of the importance of unrepeated portions, or may cause the assignment of the same work to two different subcontractors. Further, if changes or modifications are made to the terms of one document, in order to avoid conflict, the changes must be made consistently throughout the documents.

Uniform location of subject matter creates a matrix which, on the horizontal axis, considers the documents customarily used in the construction project, including the Advertisement or Invitation to Bid, Instructions to Bidders, Bid Form, Agreement, General Conditions, Supplementary Conditions, Division 1 General Requirements of the Specifications, and Divisions 2 through 49 of the Specifications. The vertical axis of the matrix examines all the various elements of subject matter included in the construction documents.

Based upon a philosophy of what should be contained in each of the project documents, the matrix indicates in which document to locate the primary statement of the subject matter; where a supplementary statement may be located; and where cross-references to the primary statement should be included.


MasterFormat establishes the organizational structure for the documents into Divisions and Sections within a Project Manual, each with a unique number and title. SectionFormat further divides Sections into three parts: Part 1 General; Part 2 Products; and Part 3 Execution. PageFormat provides a consistent format and appearance for each specification section. This simple hierarchy helps the architect or engineer place each bit of information in the correct location within the Project Manual and helps the user of the Project Manual find that information.

The MasterFormat developed by the Construction Specification Institute is an organizational structure providing numbers and titles for the variety of subject matter necessary for construction, operation, and maintenance of a facility. MasterFormat provides a system of 6-digit numbers and titles for organizing construction information into a standard order or sequence. By establishing a master list of numbers and titles, MasterFormat promotes standardization, facilitates the placement and retrieval of information, and improves the construction communication.

The development of the Project Manual Concept, Uniform Location of Subject Matter, and MasterFormat creates the skeletal structure for the contract documents. By using this skeletal structure each individual responsible for the development of the substantive information for the Project (the real meat of the project) can place that substantive information or meat on the skeleton in the correct location and with appropriate cross-references to the primary statement.

This structure facilitates communication of all parties involved the Project. Owners, contractors, and subcontractors should be able to find the specific information they are looking for in the correct location in the documents. Failure to follow this structure might be considered an inherent ambiguity. Once again, this is the language of the construction industry, which sets the standards for how we communicate detailed requirements involving multiply parties in an easy, consistent, and clear manner.

Based on this understanding of the structure and organization of the contract documents, the following analysis will review the philosophy behind what information should be contained in each of the various front end documents.

Division 00 - Procurement and Contracting Requirements

Division 00 of MasterFormat is not part of the Specification, but it is included in MasterFormat to give the structure and location for the inclusion of the Procurement Requirements and Contracting Requirements in the Project Manual.

The first half of Division 00 - Procurement Requirements are those documents that instruct and assist the bidders or proposers about the established procedures for preparing and submitting their bids or proposals. The Procurement Requirements are addressed to prospective bidders or proposers interested in the project. Procurement documents consist of the procurement and contracting requirements and the proposed contract documents. They are used to solicit pricing in the form of bids or proposals from prospective bidders. Since the procurement requirements are used only during the bidder or negotiation process, they typically are not incorporated by reference into the contract documents.  

The information and the procurement requirements should only be used during the bidding process. If a provision will be required after entering into the agreement, it should be included elsewhere in the contract documents such as the Conditions of the Contract with a cross-reference to the location in the instructions to bidders. This avoids conflicts between information that may be included solely for bidding purposes and those required for construction purposes.

The second half of Division 00 – Contracting Requirements includes the Agreement Forms and the Conditions of the Contract.

Agreement Form

The Agreement Form is often considered to be a simple hollow document that is merely completed with the critical contract elements and incorporates by reference the balance of the contract documents. These critical elements of the Agreement are the identification of parties and related entities, project description, identification of the scope of work, identification of date of commencement and substantial completion, contract sum or amount, and enumeration of contract documents which are incorporated by reference. These are often considered the private terms of the agreement between the owner and contractor, which might not be disclosed to subcontractors and suppliers.

Conditions of the Contract  

The Conditions of the Contract are considered the more public terms or conditions of the agreement between the owner and contractor that will flow down to and be incorporated by reference in the subcontracts. The Conditions of the Contract include the General Conditions, Supplementary Conditions, and Other Conditions.

The Conditions of the Contract are the written text that defines the basic rights, responsibilities, and relationships of the parties associated in the construction of a project. The General Conditions are typically industry-wide standard forms that have wide application to almost all projects and are available as standardized documents prepared by various professional associations. Supplementary Conditions modify the requirements of the General Conditions when necessary to fit the needs of a specific project, considering such items as nature of the owner (private versus public), financing of the project, locale of the project, complexity of the project, the project delivery method, lien laws, insurance requirements, and local codes or ordinances. The Other Conditions are separate requirements or documents that are incorporated by reference such as prevailing wage rates or Owner’s safety procedures.


Next month we will continue with a detailed discussion of the Conditions of the Contract and review how these parts of the Contract Documents are organized.