What is a Spec Sheet?

Ken Black

A specification sheet, commonly abbreviated to “spec sheet,” is a technical document that sets out the details of how, exactly, a certain product is intended to perform or function. These sorts of sheets are very common in the information industry, particularly as relates to computer and software design, though they are used in any circumstance where something needs to be built or constructed in a precise way. Construction projects, general manufacturing, and some telecommunications work are all places where this sort of document can be found.

A spec sheet details plan and product information.
A spec sheet details plan and product information.

Included Information

The main goal of any spec sheet is to set out the details of how, exactly, a certain product or structure is designed to operate. Most of the time, the information included is very technical and quite extensive. It is not uncommon for spec sheets to use very complicated language, to span multiple pages, and to feature charts, diagrams, and data sets.

A spec sheet allows contractors to make reasonable bids on cost.
A spec sheet allows contractors to make reasonable bids on cost.

Usefulness to Consumers

Some manufacturers publish spec sheets about their products in order to give consumers some insight into potential purchases. This is most common with industrial equipment or other machinery — major investments that buyers usually need for certain specific projects. Consumer-oriented spec sheets are usually designed to highlight the main attributes of a particular product while also explaining its performance capabilities under a variety of different circumstances. People who have very specific product needs often find this sort of information invaluable.

Importance to Contractors

A spec sheet is also commonly used as a means of garnering bids to actually build a product in the first place. Many complex pieces of computer technology and machinery require very exacting building processes. The same is true for specialized construction and telecommunications projects. Managers will typically start by building a prototype or model, then will draw up a spec sheet outlining the process.

That spec sheet is typically distributed to contractors who may be able to re-create the described project on a larger scale. In this situation, the sheet serves as something of a blueprint. Contractors will read over the specifications, decide if the project is one they want to pursue, and enter a bid.

Using the Sheet to Calculate Bids

A “bid” is the amount of money a contractor or team of contractors is willing to accept to do the work. Calculating an appropriate amount is often challenging. If a contractor offers too little, he may end up paying more to complete the project than he will earn. Too much, however, and he risks being denied. Manufacturers typically receive more bids than they need, which makes the process somewhat competitive.

A bid preparer is someone who carefully works through a spec sheet to determine exactly how much it would cost a contractor to complete a given project. The preparer studies the market and makes guesses about other bids that might be received, then makes a recommendation about what sort of number should be put forward.

Secrecy Involved

Most of the spec sheets distributed to contractors are highly secretive. Companies often wish to protect the technical and design elements of their products from the eyes of competitors. For this reason, contractors and bid preparers must usually sign what are known as “non-disclosure agreements” — binding documents that promise secrecy — before being allowed to view the full details included in the sheets.

Construction projects often include a spec sheet.
Construction projects often include a spec sheet.

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Discussion Comments


Spec sheets are also used in telecommunications. My husband gets spec sheets (or specs, as he calls them) that tell him what he needs to know for the different installation and removal jobs that he works on for his telecom company.


Spec sheets are often really difficult to understand if you do not know the jargon of whatever they are for. Lighting spec sheets, for example, are hard to read even if you have taking some courses on them; I took an introductory lighting design class while studying theater in college, and I still don't understand spec sheets.

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