MasterFormat - the Great Debate

Despite the vocal opposition to the work of the MasterFormat Expansion Task Team (MFETT), many of our members - and many people outside our organization - see the potential for significant improvements in organizing and exchanging construction information in an expanded MasterFormat.

Although it is obvious that some have studied the issues, there have been many articles, e-mails, and a petition that make emotional appeals designed to elicit a particular response from those who cannot or will not take the time to understand what is happening. Many of these messages are cleverly worded "sky is falling" warnings intended to prejudice the reader without discussing the issue. O.K., "Roofing is moved from Division 7 to Division 41" but what does that mean?

The same arguments used to decry the proposed changes in MasterFormat were undoubtedly used to argue against adopting the original MasterFormat, and CSI's other standards, as well. "I've done it this way for twenty years and I'm not going to change!" "Manufacturers won't put numbers on their literature." "Each office does things differently and they aren't going to change." "Think of the time it will take to train our staff how this works."

Yet CSI went ahead and created the standards that we use today. Did the whole industry adopt them on a given day? No! It took years before architects, engineers, and manufacturers finally adopted those standards.

Look to the Future

CSI's early members were visionaries who looked at construction documents, saw the inconsistencies, and set about to make a better world by establishing standards for communication.

Have we lost the ability to look to the future and develop new tools to improve the construction process? Have we done all that there is to do? It's been decades since CSI first issued MasterFormat, SectionFormat, PageFormat, and its Manual of Practice, all of which were based on paper-and-ink documents.

Let us do what our founders did. Let us examine today's and tomorrow's needs and move forward, setting much needed standards not only for construction documents, but for processing information, and for the essential organization of construction information itself.

2003 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, FCSI, CCS, CCCA

For a commentary on the work done by the Institute Technical Committee that eventually led to the MFETT, written while that work was being done, read "The Big Picture" at

Web site design and content Copyright  1995-2004 Sheldon Wolfe

Material from CSI Chapter newsletters used with permission.