10 Dec 2019

How to Read a Standard

Standards can be confusing. There is a lot of information to wade through and organize before you start testing and analyzing data. So, how can you quickly pull out the pertinent information you need and use it correctly?  Read on for insights on how to read a standard.

Identify the Type of Standard

A standard could be a guide, a test method, or a requirement.  It is important to understand exactly what type of standard you are reading and using to test a product.  This could mean the difference between implementing a "nice-to-have" good practice or a "must-have" necessity needed to get a product to market.

Gather and Organize Information based on the Parameters to be Measured or Controlled

Based on the type of standard and information needed, you can establish expectations and organize the testing process and data collection.  You can also make decisions as far as setup, methods, equipment to use, controls, measurement, data collection, and notes. Consider what parameters can be controlled and monitored—temperature, voltage, power supply, etc.—and what cannot.  Know the calculations you'll need to use. This will give you a better understanding of the standard and how to illustrate compliance.

Start with Definitions

Make sure you understand what the standard is looking for.  This may include references to other standards and guidelines.  It also includes understanding definitions of products, equipment, methods, and reporting requirements.  Do you understand the terminology being used?  Do you comprehend what you need to do and what information to collect? Are you understanding how to compile and make the final report? Are you familiar with any references in the standard? Make sure you can answer these types of questions.

Work through Setup, Execution, and Report

Based on your close reading and understanding of the standard and what it is looking for, establish a hypothetical test plan that includes how the test will be set up and conducted, how data will be collected, and what the final report should entail.  This aids in your understanding of the standard and helps to ensure as smooth a testing process as possible.

Watch out for Referenced Documents

As previously mentioned, standards may reference other standards or guidelines within the industry or that cross other industries.  Cybersecurity standards, for example, apply to other industries like automotive, lighting, and appliances.  It is important to watch out for these types of references and understand what these documents are and say, and how that may impact the market your product is intended to be used in.

Document Units, Method, and Uncertainty

It is important to keep track of data, how it was collected, and any questions or unexpected results.  This will aid in understanding the standard and how a product conforms (or does not conform) to it.  It will also help with reporting, certification, potential redesigns, and retesting when applying the standard.

Choose How to Capture Information

You need a clear understanding of what a standard is calling for and the best way to capture and relay that information. Clearly define how data needs to be collected, documented, and stored both for reporting purposes and future reference.

Plan the Reporting Before Starting

As with test setup, methods and data collection, it is important to understand how you need to report the data before you start.  This will ensure the necessary information is collected and provided and that you are fulfilling the reporting requirements of the standard, thus ensuring you fully comprehend the standard itself.

Reading a standard involves knowledge of what the standard says and requires.  It means knowing what you need to do and provide in order to meet the standard, as well as how to meet it.  A close reading of the language and a thought-out approach to how you would address the requirements, conduct the testing, collect information and process a report will help to ensure a firm understanding of what is being asked of you and how you can deliver.  For more insights on best practices in reading a standard, download our complimentary webinar recording.


Alex Porter,
Global Director of Engineering


Alex Porter is a Global Director of Engineering at Intertek. With more than 20 years of experience in the testing industry, Alex has experience working with standards, materials, robotics and space station components. He has Bachelor's and Master's degrees in engineering from Western Michigan University, and has written several articles and a book on testing methods, particularly accelerated stress testing (AST).

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