Standard? Technical Report? What’s the Difference?

Mary C. McKiel, PhD

Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs), such as the AAFS-Academy Standards Board (ASB), provide a range of deliverables to their user communities. It is helpful to understand what those deliverables are, and what distinguishes one from another. This article discusses the differences between two kinds of deliverables: Standards and Technical Reports.

Based on definitions provided by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119*, most U.S. Standards developers, including ASB, develop standards and technical reports in accordance with the following or similar distinctions.

Standards are common and repeated use of rules, conditions, guidelines or characteristics for activities or their results, aimed at achieving the optimum degree of order in a given context. Standards exist as:

  • Specification standards – contain requirements which can be implemented and, if desired, audited for conformance or non-conformance.
  • Guideline Standards – written to assist in the interpretation and implementation of specification standards. These standards do not contain auditable requirements.
  • Best Practices Standards- written either as specification standards or guideline standards.
  • Publicly available specifications (can also be referred to as Technical Specifications or other names) – written to address an immediate safety or health concern but exist for a limited time only (3-5 years), after which they are either put through the normal standardization process or are withdrawn.

Standards of any kind that are issued as American National Standards, must be developed in conformance with ANSI's Essential Requirements: Due Process Requirements for American National Standards. This process means that SDOs submit the proposed standards for public review and comment.

A Technical Report (TR), by contrast, does not contain rules, guidelines, conditions or requirements. TRs are informational only and may contain, for example, technical research, tutorials, factual data obtained from a survey or other mechanism, or information on the 'state-of-the-art' developments in relation to standards on a particular subject. Further, TRs:

  • Do not necessarily reflect a consensus opinion,
  • Can be published without a public comment period,
  • May contain multiple viewpoints,
  • Can be published in as little as 6 to 8 weeks once the writing is completed
  • Can be registered, if so desired, with ANSI to encourage widespread use and acceptance.

Technical Reports offer a major benefit to the standards community. When a sector, field of work, or technology is not ready for standardization, a TR is a bona fide way to share and get feedback on information that may lead to the development of a standard. For example, a TR may be based on an initial working draft for a standard to be developed, or it may present material that was considered for – but finally not included in – a standard. TRs are reviewed every three years to assess ongoing relevancy.**

All forms of standards are used throughout the world in order to support and strengthen markets, to advance research, industries, governments, and organizations, to protect the environment, and to deliver critical safety and health information to consumers.

Questions and comments can be addressed to: asb@aafs.org

*Available on www.standards.gov Policies in Circular A-119 apply only to federal agencies, however they were developed with input from the private sector.

** Much of the material concerning TRs can be found on ANSI's website: www.ansi.org

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The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.