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March/April 2011

You Must Do This!

Understanding Mandatory Sections in ASTM Test Methods

There are more than 12,000 ASTM International standards, many of which are test methods. Because of the importance of this type of standard, directions for assembling a test method are provided, front and center, in Part A of Form and Style for ASTM Standards.

Part A1, Subject Headings of Text, presents a natural outline for the organization of a test method by providing a list of possible subject headings in sequential order. This list is fairly comprehensive (though some test methods may require additional headings for specialized subjects) and notes which sections are mandatory for all ASTM test methods.

While most test methods will surely include nonmandatory sections, here is a quick look at what Form and Style has to say about each of the mandatory sections:

A2. Title. All test methods must have a title. Part A2 makes several important suggestions regarding how to develop the most effective title, including the following:

  • A title should be concise but complete enough to identify the nature of the test, the material to which it is applicable and to distinguish it from other similar titles.
  • Titles of analogous standards should be identical, except for the distinctive feature of each.
  • Titles should be brief, inclusive and lend themselves to indexing systems.

A3. Designation and Year Date. The designation of a test method (for example, “D143”) is assigned by ASTM headquarters when the test method is approved.

A5. Scope. Information relating to the purpose of the test method is included in the scope section. This includes stating whether the method is quantitative or qualitative, as well as any limitations. The system of units to be used in referee decisions, as well as any necessary safety or fire hazards caveats, should also be included in the scope (In certain cases, a separate hazards section may also be mandatory. See A13 of Form and Style for details.)

A9. Significance and Use. Explain the relevance and meaning of the test method in the significance and use section. This includes practical uses for the method and how it is typically employed. Be sure not to repeat information already included in the scope.

A18. Procedure. Detailed sequential directions are essential for any test method, and the procedure section is where they belong. Describe the procedure in the imperative mood, present tense. The text must be concise, to the point and easily understandable. Preferred procedures should be given prominence over any listed alternative directions.

A21. Precision and Bias. A21 provides extensive information on the development of both precision and bias statements, and it lists standards that can be referred to for definitions of statistical terms and procedures. A follow-up Rules&Regs column will take a closer look at Section A21.

A23. Keywords. Words and phrases that best represent the technical information contained in the test method should be included in the keywords section. General, vernacular and trade terms taken from the title and body of the document can be used. These words are used to facilitate the identification and retrieval of the standard.

Consult Form and Style for a more thorough understanding of these mandatory sections for ASTM test methods.