Develop Standards

Learn about the Standards Development Lifecycle, how to participate in standards development, search for working groups and standards in development and much more!


The first milestone for many Working Groups is finishing their first complete draft. One of the ways to start is to break the document down into segments or sections. First,  a scope and purpose is prepared based on the PAR information. The scope and purpose should be kept in mind at all times, since this will be what the IEEE-SA Standards Board will be evaluating the document against.

Next, an outline is created. Often, this outline will also serve as the structure for the standard as well. The subjects in the outline will become the clauses and subclauses in the document. This outline should be thoroughly reviewed against source materials and Working Group ideas to ensure that it is conclusive. Then the Working Group should work to fill in the outline. Often, this is done by splitting up the work among Working Group members. It's advisable not to actually write the document at meetings. Assign writing tasks, then use the meeting to resolve problematic areas, treating the meetings almost as a plenary session. The technical editor will then compile this work into one document.

One of the challenges in splitting up the work is the potential for inconsistency of tone in the document as a result. One way to avoid this problem is to remember to use standards verbs (shall, should, and may) as the primary means of conveying the tone of your document. Standards primarily use "shall," recommended practices primarily use "should," and guides primarily use "may". Remember, however, that this is not an exclusive definition. Standards can use "may" every once in a while, just as guides can use "shall". Indeed, this kind of use is almost inevitable. What needs to be attained is an overall consistency of tone. The overall tone is mandatory, so consistency in the use of verbs, and the use of proper standards verbs, can help to achieve an even tone in the document.

Another helpful tool is to discuss as a group how the group is going to explain the information contained in your standard. Should you use descriptions? Enumerated lists? Examples? A combination of these? Should each subject be addressed in a certain manner — first point A, then point B, then point C (when A, B, and C could serve as potential subclauses)? If the Working Group lays out some ground rules to cover document structure, chances are that uniformity will be much easier to achieve. If you are working on a family of standards, examine the other completed standards and drafts in development to see what tone and structure they use.

One other aspect of standards writing can be confusing for Working Groups is the use of the word "must". Traditionally, "must" is frowned upon in standards writing because its mandatory nature can be confused with "shall". In other words, when you say a user must do something, are you mandating this? Or are you saying it's an inevitable result of the situation they are in? Remember, "must" is not a defined standards verb in standards organizations. Therefore, the mandatory nature of a statement with "must" in a standard could be called into question in a court of law, and there would be no existing practice or rules to back up its meaning (keep in mind what was discussed earlier, the quasi-legal nature of standards and the need for a clear understanding of a standard's intent). For this reason, "must" should be avoided unless it is being used in a descriptive fashion (if it is raining, the sky must be gray). Stick to the defined standards verbs for the sake of clarity between you and the users of your standard.

Another good preparatory step is to examine the related publications in the area you want to standardize, both to ensure that you're aware of the latest activities in your field and to avoid duplication of available work. You should examine all types of publications, from approved standards to magazine articles, to make sure you're as informed as you can be prior to the actual task of writing.

Every draft version of a standard has to be labeled with the appropriate copyright notices. One brief notice appears on every page of the standard. The other appears at the beginning of the document. These notices are crucial to guarantee copyright protection and should not be overlooked. The IEEE-SA Standards Style Manual PDF format explains the proper wording for these notices.

Using material from other copyrighted documents also needs to be addressed. Just as IEEE is concerned with protecting its copyright, it is correspondingly concerned with respecting the copyright of others. If you're using material from another document, you need to ensure that the copyright owner has granted permission. For text, most organizations would consider minimal citation to be "fair use", which can be included without permission. When it comes to tables and figures, however, the distinction is harder to make. A table can be a brief way of representing a dense amount of information and, as the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. For these reasons, you have to obtain permission for use of figures and tables from other publications. Some groups also want to use an entire document as the basis for their standard.