Construction Documents: The Ultimate Guide

For any construction project to be successful, it needs accurate and readily available documents. Without the proper documents, the costs of a contract could balloon, and responsibilities for various contractors and subcontractors could become unclear. A lack of appropriate documentation also makes it much less likely the finished construction project meets the project owner's vision.

Since documents are crucial to a project's success, any construction company will need to be aware of the documents they're likely to rely on to win a contract and complete the project. To ensure your construction company is in the best position to win contracts and finish projects to client expectations, learn more about the construction tender process, the importance of construction documents and the primary documents various parties use in a project.

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The Construction Tender Process

For a construction company to win a project, they often have to go through a multistep construction tender process. In this process, construction companies bid on a project, finalize contract details if they win and deliver a final product. In these stages, various documents are required to ensure all terms are agreed upon and the project is completed correctly.

Before you understand the standard documents that come with construction document management, you should first understand the general process of getting a construction project off the ground. To give you a broader understanding of the different stages of the construction tender process, check out some of its basic activities:

  • Bid solicitation: The individual or organization that wants a structure built will seek bids for their project. To ensure they get accurate bids, the owner seeking offers will need to provide documentation that includes specifications, scope documents and drawings. Sometimes, the bid solicitation process will be a request to tender or a request for proposal.
  • Bid submission: All interested construction companies will need to submit their bids by a specified deadline. Their bids will come in the form of a document called the bid sheet, bid form or bid template. After submission, the owner will begin the bid selection process, where they pick the company they want to complete the job.
  • Subcontracting: Sometimes, general contractors who are bidding on a project will take bids from subcontractors for types of work before winning the bid. This process may also occur after the contractor has won the contract.
  • Contract formation: After winning the project, the owner and the general contractor will finalize the terms of the project. In this stage, various legal documents will be agreed upon by both parties.
  • Project delivery: Once the contract documents are finalized, the project construction begins.

The Importance of Construction Documents

Construction documents serve several purposes, from locking down the costs of a project to ensuring the structure is built correctly. Understanding a wide range of construction documents can solidify your professionalism in a client's eyes and help you win more contracts. It's also essential to be aware of what documents a reputable project owner should be providing to ensure all the terms, responsibilities and fees of the project are ironed out before building begins.

Those who disregard the need for construction documents run the risk of legal problems and dissatisfied clients. If you run into an issue where the project owner pays you a lower amount for a service than initially agreed, without the proper documentation, you may not be able to receive your full payment. Also, not having appropriate documentation can lead your team to miss critical parts of the building process, with the final product suffering as a result.

To avoid issues like the ones described above, start by getting to know more about the primary types of construction documents.


Types of Construction Documents

While all projects have different specifications and needs, most will have a few types of construction documents that come standard. The primary types of construction documents include bidding and procurement documents, contract documents, project manuals and drawings. Below, you can find a breakdown of the categories of construction documents that construction companies should be aware of:

1. Bidding and Procurement Documents

Bidding and procurement documents help ensure the project owner and general contractor are on the same page. Sometimes, project owners will open their bid to any company that qualifies, or they may send invites to bid to specific companies.

The documents that project owners will have to prepare begin with advertising for bids. These documents may be a general announcement describing the project and opening the project to bids from interested parties. If the project owner is only inviting specific contractors to bid, they'll need to prepare an invitation document to send to those they want to submit bids.

The project owner will also need to create a bid form that ensures all bids are sent in the same format. Interested contractors have to fill out this bid template to prepare their bid and send it to the project owner.

Information on the Bid Template for Contractors

Contractors bidding on the project need to keep a bid template, bid form or bid sheet that details the bid. In this document, the construction company will need to specify the name of the client and owner, as well as the project site. This document will also include a project narrative, outlining the goals, details and project schedule.

In the bid template, the construction company bidding on the project will lay out the responsibilities of the owner. They'll also set the projected cost and completion date of the project. This allows the project owner to see a breakdown of materials, labor and other costs. To accept the bid, the owner will sign the bid template.

Other Bid Documents

Besides the bid form and invitation to bid documents, there are a few other documents that are standard for most construction projects. These documents include owner-contractor agreement forms, a performance bond and a labor and material bond:

  • Owner-contractor agreement form: This document makes sure the project owner and contractor agree about the project's requirements. These contract documents will describe the duties, obligations and rights of both parties. The owner-contractor agreement form is crucial for both parties, as it makes sure everyone involved in the project is aware of the expectations.
  • Labor and material bond: Sometimes referred to as a payment bond, this document guarantees payment of the project's suppliers and subcontractors. You can think of this bond as a type of insurance to make sure relevant parties are paid for the material and labor they use for the project. It helps to protect the owner of the construction project in case the contractor ends up failing to pay subcontractors for materials, services and equipment.
  • Performance bond: A performance bond is designed to protect the owner against subcontractors defaulting and the contractors failing to perform. It essentially guarantees that the owner will have their costs covered in case of the contractor not completing their duties.

2. Contract Documents

After a bid has been accepted and a contractor prepares to work with a client, they'll need to finalize their contract. It should be noted that these contract documents will potentially be drafted in the bidding process for potential contractors to review. You might see some overlap between documents used for the bidding and contract portions of a construction project.

There are a few different kinds of contract documents companies use for construction projects. With the contract documents, clients and contractors can ensure all terms are agreed upon and that there won't be any misunderstandings. Learn more about the primary kinds of contract documents used in construction projects below:

Construction Contract Agreement

The construction contract agreement is the primary document for most construction projects. It's the principal agreement between a business's contracting office or a private property owner and a contractor. Most other contract documents will refer to or attach to the construction contract agreement.

In a construction contract agreement, you can expect to find a set date for the construction project. It should also clearly show which parties will be responsible for various tasks in the construction process. You'll also find many sections featuring information about the terms, scope and conditions of the agreement.

Scope of Work

Sometimes referred to as the statement of work, the scope of work document is used to describe the work that's going to need to be accomplished to complete the project. It also highlights who will be responsible for the various types of work, the materials needed for different tasks and the techniques required to complete the job effectively. The scope of work document gives a detailed account of how any change orders should be handled.

This document is crucial for the success of your work. It helps companies put together an accurate estimate for a project during the bidding process. It also sets a project up for success when construction begins, as team members can be sure of their responsibilities and the steps they need to take to complete their work.

General Conditions

Inside a construction contract, you'll find a general conditions section. This is the portion of a contract that details the responsibilities, relationships and rights between contractors and clients. The most crucial aspect of this portion of the agreement describes each party's obligations and rights. If disputes arise during the construction process, the relevant parties can use this contract portion to find stipulations describing how to handle a conflict. Basically, this contract document gives the entire construction contract its legal framework.

Special Conditions

In many contracts, you'll find a special conditions document, which will be included as an addendum to the general conditions section. This document features clauses that relate to specific parts of the project and details certain conditions. The special conditions section will be used when you need to display specific instructions that only relate to a single portion of a project.

Construction Schedule

Construction schedules lay out the stages of the project and when they will be completed. When scheduling problems pop up, a construction schedule will give the contracting client some leverage. The contractor will also use the document to help them schedule the different tasks needed to complete the project on time. Since challenges can arise due to a work site's changing needs, a construction schedule may be changed.

Cost Estimate

The cost estimate section of a construction contract breaks down all the items used in the construction project and describes their costs. You can find cost estimates that provide a lump sum number that doesn't include any specific items, and you can find those that showcase a detailed representation of the cost for each item.

List of Construction Insurance Coverage

A list of construction insurance coverage is used to show a client that the contractor can hold up economically in case of an accident. If the client sees that equipment and other portions of the project are backed up with insurance, they can have greater peace of mind. On the list, you'll see the various types of coverage included, such as performance bonding, builder's risk insurance and general liability insurance.

Bill of Quantities

In the bill of quantities document, you'll find a list of varying materials and trades used in the construction projects. The document should include an itemized list of the labor, parts and materials used to complete the project. Companies must put one of these documents together when they want to submit accurate bids for projects. It may not be included in the actual contract, depending on the contracting officer's preferences.

Technical Specifications

A contract's specifications section will cover technical requirements and data. This portion will provide readers with the techniques and materials used for the technical aspects of the project. The technical specifications will typically be negotiated while the contract is in development. If any changes occur to the specifications, you'll know how to handle them based on the conditions stipulated in the scope of work section.


Part of any contract should have drawings that are related to the job being completed. These drawings can be as detailed as the actual blueprints or as simple as a basic representation of the character, extent and scope of the work.


3. Project Manuals

Project manuals usually come in the form of a bound physical or digital book containing all the project's contract and noncontract documents. The only documents missing from the project manual are the project drawings.

The four main sections of project manuals are the bidding requirements, the different parts of the contract, the contract's general and supplementary conditions and the technical specifications. These different sections of the contract have been described previously, but it's important to understand project manuals as a distinct construction document.

A project manual helps to organize the project documents and ensure everything can be found easily. In this manual, contractors can access data about the project's specifications and its financial details. It's a crucial component of construction projects, and any successful owner-contractor relationship utilizes it in varying stages of a project.

4. Plans and Drawings

To complete the construction phase of a project successfully, the contractor will need to have detailed drawings and blueprints available. Owners will begin to form plans by working with an architect, who will come up with schematic designs and then move to the design development phase. Once the owner and architect agree on a design, they'll produce the official construction documents used by the contractor to build the structure.

Find out more about the different types of drawings below:

Schematic Designs

Schematic designs are the first kind of drawings for a project. An architect works with the project owner to establish the project requirements and draw up a basic representation of the potential structure. These drawings attempt to represent the primary concepts of the design, its spacial relationships, forms and the basic scale of different portions of the building. From this design, an owner can start to estimate the project's cost.

In the schematic design phase, you'll either see computer rendered or hand-drawn representations of the site plan, elevations and floor plans.

Design Development

In the design and development phase, the owner and architect will finalize the design. These documents will include specifications about the door and window locations, general structural details and materials. By the time the design development phase ends, there should be a detailed site plan. At the end of the design development stage, section drawings that represent full dimensions, as well as detailed floor plans and elevations, will be produced.

Construction Drawings and Blueprints

After the design development phase, construction documents will be shared with the contractor to plan out and begin construction. These drawing documents and blueprints will be taken from the finalized drawings produced in the design development phase. New drawings in this phase will have even more detail to ensure the proper construction of the project.

In these documents, you'll find specific requirements for construction practices and materials. The owners or architects will send the finalized drawings to contractors who can then bid on the project and price out the project cost.

A finished set of construction drawings will include a few documents. Architectural drawings will be one of the primary types the contractor uses. These architectural drawings include documents like floor plans, a site plan and sections and details of the building. They'll also be combined with structural drawings, which provide the contractor vital information about how to build the structure properly. You may also see electrical and mechanical drawings included in this stage.

Record Drawings or As-Built Drawings

Once construction is underway, documentation of the contractor's building process must take place. Record drawings, or as-built drawings, are documents meant to show the difference between the original drawings and specifications versus what was actually constructed. Since projects change and face challenges not anticipated in the original designs, record drawings are crucial for showing what changed.

A contractor will submit a project's as-built drawings at the completion of a job or project. The drawings will feature every change made during the construction process, with details about altered locations, geometry and dimensions of the project.

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