SpecWriter Manual  
 HOME SITE INDEX SpecWriter Manual Manual by PowerTools Software, Inc. 
 Table of Contents
 Executive Summary
 Program Features
 Spec Categories
 Screen Images
 Demo Manual

 Table of Contents
 Setup Guide
 Users Guide
Main Manual
 Document List

 File Menu
 Checklist Menu
 Specifications Menu
 Takeoff Menu
 Estimate Menu
 Values Menu
 Notes Menu
 Settings Menu
 Help Menu

SpecWriter Manual

Introduction to SpecWriter

First Time Opening the File

Using SpecWriter

Customizing SpecWriter

Advanced Features

Advanced Strategies

Introduction to SpecWriter

General Information

  1. SpecWriter is an Excel spreadsheet program designed to write specifications and prepare estimates for residential and light commercial construction projects.
  2. SpecWriter works by providing you with a Checklist of specifications from which you select those that apply to your project.
  3. Once you've selected your specifications, the menu command Generate Specifications will:
    • Copy them to the Specifications page.
    • Re-group them according to the 8 Sections of the specification format.
    • Number them in an easy-to-read outline format.
  4. SpecWriter's Checklist contains over 4,000 pre-written specifications for your immediate use.
  5. Only those specifications you select from the Checklist are included in the resulting Project Specifications.
  6. You can add, edit, overwrite or delete anything on the Checklist, which means you can customize it specifically for your business.
  7. You can change your selections on the Checklist and re-generate revised specifications at any time.
  8. You may also generate an Estimate Worksheet with exactly the same categories and descriptions as your Project Specifications. Having your Contract Specifications and your Estimate line items match exactly is one of the great features of SpecWriter.

Installing SpecWriter

  1. Insert the Installation CD into your computer.
  2. Wait just a few seconds as the automatic menu program opens the CD.
  3. Select "Install SpecWriter" and the Installation program will walk you through the installation procedure.
  4. The Installation Program will...
    • Create a folder on your hard disc named "PowerTools"
    • Create a sub-folder named "SpecWriter"
    • Copy a file named "SpecWriter Master File.xls" into the folder.
    • Create a SpecWriter icon on your Windows desktop.

General File Management

  1. All your SpecWriter files should be kept in a folder named c:\PowerTools\SpecWriter.
  2. This folder will contain your SpecWriter Master File and the project files you create from the SpecWriter Master File.
  3. The SpecWriter Master File.xls is your primary copy of SpecWriter.
  4. Each time you want to start a new project, you will...
    • Open SpecWriter Master File.xls
    • Use File | Enter Project Name to enter the new project's name.
    • Use File | Save to Hard Disc to save the file using the new project name.
    • The new project will then have it's own file.
  5. Each time you want to make permanent changes to the Checklist in your SpecWriter Master File, you will...
    • Open your current SpecWriter Master File.
    • Make the desired revisions.
    • Select File | Save to Hard Disc
    • Replace the existing Master File with the revised Master file.
  6. It's OK to replace the SpecWriter Master File with a version you've modified with permanent changes as a new Master File.
  7. Do Not replace the SpecWriter Master File with a version you've setup for a specific project.

Understand the Eight Section System

  1. To use SpecWriter, you need to understand the 8 Section specification format. Until then, the SpecWriter Checklist won't have a lot of meaning.
  2. There are Eight main Sections to any project's Specifications.
    • Sec 1 General Description of the Scope of Work
    • Sec 2 Descriptions of Work in Specific Areas
    • Sec 3 Items included in the Basic Contract Price
    • Sec 4 Unit Cost Allowances
    • Sec 5 Fixed Cost Allowances
    • Sec 6 Options and Upgrades
    • Sec 7 Tasks by Owner
    • Sec 8 Contract Exclusions
  3. The SpecWriter Checklist presents all the potential specifications, grouped by subject, which we call Categories.
  4. When you generate the Project Specifications, SpecWriter copies only the specifications you selected on the Checklist to the Project Specifications.
  5. In addition, SpecWriter re-groups the specifications you selected into one of the Eight Sections of the Project Specifications as follows:
    • The Specifications in the 1st part of the Checklist are transferred only to Section 1 or Section 2 of the Project Specifications.
    • The Specifications in the 2nd part of the Checklist are transferred to Sections 3 through 8 of the Project Specifications.
    • The process is designed this way because you need to make these decisions (Excluded vs Owner vs Builder vs Allowance vs Option) on a category-by-category basis.
    • In other words, the Scope of Work and Construction Specifications any given subject (Category) must be decided together.
  6. The color-coded bar on the left side of the Checklist will visually identify the Section in the Project Specifications where the selected Checklist Specification would appear.

First Time Opening the File

Starting SpecWriter

  1. From the Desktop Icon:
    • Double-click the blue and white Icon on your Windows desktop labeled "SpecWriter". This will open the SpecWriter folder which will visually display your SpecWriter files.
    • When you first install Specwriter, this folder will only contain your SpecWriter Master File.xls. As you use SpecWriter to create specifications and estimates for actual projects, you will add additional files with those project names.
    • Double-click the SpecWriter Master File to create a new specification, or an existing project file as desired.
    • Excel will start and then load the selected file automatically.
  2. From Excel:
    • Start Excel, Select File | Open
    • Look In c:\PowerTools\SpecWriter
    • Open SpecWriter Master File.xls

Moving Around the Program

  1. Use the arrow keys to move around any page.
  2. Use the Page Up and Page Down keys to move rapidly up and down any page.
  3. Use the right side scroll bar to move up and down a page.
  4. Use the mouse pointer on the file tabs at the bottom of the screen to move between pages.
  5. Use Checklist | Lookup/Goto to view an alphabetical list of checklist categories you can then select and "jump to" directly.

Learning About the Program

  1. The fastest way to learn your way around SpecWriter is to open the SpecWriter Master File and go tearing through it for about an hour.
  2. You should explore every menu command, examine every screen, enter numbers everywhere, and try to figure out what everything does to everything else.
  3. Be bold, try to break the program! Don't worry, you can't do anything "wrong".
  4. When you're finished, simply close the file without saving it!

Setting Company Name & Display Settings

  1. The Program Settings control many important aspects of the program.
  2. As you become experienced in SpecWriter, you will probably change one or more of them to suit how you wish to operate the program.
  3. For the time being, we recommend you leave the settings alone except for these two:
    • Use Settings | Program Settings | Display | Screen Resolution to adjust SpecWriter's screen size to match your monitor.
    • Use Settings | Contractor Info to enter your company name into your SpecWriter Master File.
  4. When you're done, use File | Save to Hard Drive to save the file as a new SpecWriter Master File.
  5. From then on, when you open your SpecWriter Master File to start a project...
    • The screen will be sized to fit your monitor.
    • The file will already include your company name.

Using SpecWriter

Basic Procedures

  1. Open your SpecWriter Master File.
  2. Use File | Enter Project Name to enter the project name.
  3. Select a Checklist Template (optional)
  4. Use Specifications | Generate Specifications to test the file by generating Specifications using the current Checklist selections.
  5. Tag (select) the desired specifications on the Checklist.
  6. Use Specifications | Generate Specifications to generate your actual Project Specifications.
  7. Review the Project Specifications and revise your Checklist selections as necessary.
  8. Use Estimate | Generate Estimate Worksheet to generate your Estimate Worksheet.
  9. Enter your estimate numbers into the Estimate Worksheet, revise as necessary.
  10. You may preview and/or print any document at any time.
  11. Use File | Save to Hard Drive to save the file at any time.
  12. Always save the file at the end of your work session.

Selecting Specifications

  1. Start at the top of the Checklist, with the square box cursor in the tag column.
  2. Use the arrow keys to move down the Checklist, and use the small "x" key to "Tag" (select) the specifications and descriptions that describe the project.
  3. You may also delete an "x" with the delete key at any time.
  4. Please DO NOT use the space bar to delete an "x" tag. The space character is not the same as a blank space, it's a character just like any other keyboard character except that it's not visible.
  5. Always select at least one header for each specification category in which you also selected a specification. The headers are in bold, dark blue print on the screen.
  6. Use the color coded column on the left to remind you in which of the 8 Sections of the Project Specifications that the selected specification will be copied into.

Creating Project Specifications

  1. Use Specifications | Generate Specifications to initiate the procedure. SpecWriter will then...
    • Copy the specifications you "Tagged" from the Checklist to the Project Specifications page.
    • Re-sort the Specifications into the 8 Section format of the Project Specifications.
    • Format the Specifications in an outline.
    • Insert a header and footer on each page.
  2. Use Specifications | Preview to review how your specifications will appear when printed.
  3. If you wish to change anything in the Specifications, just change the Checklist and generate new Specifications.
  4. You may generate the Project Specifications as many times as you wish. Everytime you generate specifications, SpecWriter completely erases the existing Project Specifications and creates new Project Specifications based upon the existing Checklist selections.

Creating an Estimate

  1. Use Estimate | Generate Estimate Worksheet to initiate the procedure.
  2. SpecWriter will then...
    • Copy the specifications you "Tagged" from the Checklist to the Estimate Worksheet.
    • Re-sort the Specifications into the 8 Section format of the Project Specifications.
    • Format the Specifications in an outline.
    • Place the specifications into the Estimate Worksheet with additional columns for unit costs, quantity, costs, etc.
    • Add the Cost Codes into the left column of the Estimate Worksheet.
    • Insert an Estimate Summary section at the bottom of the Estimate that subtotals your costs and allows you to add the appropriate markup for overhead and profit.
  3. If you re-generate an estimate, SpecWriter will ask you if you want to save the original estimate for reference.

Using the Estimate

  1. The Estimate is a worksheet formatted to assist you in calculating and summarizing the many figures in a typical estimate.
  2. The Estimate worksheet contains the same specifications as the project specifications with two notable exceptions:
    • The allowances are NOT grouped together. They are positioned with their applicable specifications.
    • The estimate does not include the Options, the Owner's Tasks, or the Exclusions. The only thing the estimate is concerned with are the items you are going to pay for.
  3. The idea here is to proceed down the worksheet, category by category, and enter your estimated cost for that category.
  4. Your estimated cost might be calculated from historical unit costs, or it could be a bid or quote you received, or it could simply be a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess).
  5. Use Estimate | Presentation Options to change the estimate to different formats as your situation may require.
  6. Regardless to how you determined the estimated costs, the Estimate Summary will:
    • Total all the figures in each applicable column.
    • Allow you to add percentages for Supervision and other Project Overhead Costs.
    • Allow you to enter percentages for Overhead and your Compensation (Profit).
    • Total all the numbers.
  7. Please note that the Overhead and Profit dollar figures are a margin as a percent of the Total Price, NOT a markup on the costs.

Using the Schedule of Values

  1. The Schedule of Values is comprised of the headers you selected from the Checklist, with adjacent columns for entering costs, markup and price.
  2. The SOV is designed for commercial projects that require you to submit a Schedule of Values as part of a bid submission package.
  3. Some residential lenders also want a SOV with the loan application because they will utilize it as the basis for the draw schedule.
  4. Some Builders use the SOV to estimate their projects or simply as a "Preliminary Rough Estimate".
  5. You can always generate the SOV, view it, and then decide if it's of any use to you.
  6. If you don't need to use the SOV, just ignore it.

Customizing SpecWriter

Program Settings

  1. The Program Settings control many important aspects of the program.
  2. As you become experienced in SpecWriter, you will probably change one or more of them to suit how you wish to operate the program.
  3. Use Settings | Program Settings to access the Settings dialog box.
  4. Checklist Columns will display or hide certain columns on the Checklist.
  5. Pages to Display will determine which of the pages are visible.
  6. Estimate Font Sizes will allow you to change the font sizes on the Estimate Worksheet. This is helpful when the dollar figures are too wide for the columns.
  7. Screen Resolution will change the zoom level to fit your monitor.
  8. The Default Folder is the location of your SpecWriter Files. The default setting is c:\PowerTools\SpecWriter.
  9. Display Caution Messages allows you to turn the messages off.
  10. The Default Rates allow you to set the defaults used in the Estimate.

Customizing the Checklist

  1. These are a couple of tools we've designed to speed up the process of navigating the through the Checklist and selecting the specifications.
  2. First, scan down the Checklist, and use the Collapse/Expand feature to "Collapse" (hide) entire Categories of Specifications you don't think you'll need on a regular basis.
    • Simply Click on the little " + " plus sign in the left column adjacent to the bottom of each Category.
    • Clicking the " - " minus sign will expand the Category at any time.
  3. Also, while scanning the checklist, use the Red Lettering feature to identify your Standard Specifications.
    • Select any specification, then press "Control-R" to change it's color from black to red.
    • You may press "Control-R" to change any red specifications back to black at any time if desired.
    • Using the Red Lettering feature has no effect on any of the documents produced by SpecWriter.
    • This is a visual tool designed to assist you in making you checklist selections.

Customizing the Specifications

  1. Once you've become familiar with how SpecWriter works, you'll want to start customizing it for your business.
  2. Most users will add between 30 to 100 customized specifications.
  3. You can add or edit specifications to your Master SpecWriter File at any time.
  4. Use the F-2 key to edit a specification at any time.
  5. Use Checklist | Add Specification Line to insert a blank specification row at any point in the Checklist.
  6. Use Checklist | Delete Specification Lines(s) to remove the selected rows completely.
  7. Use Checklist | Insert Special Note to insert a new row with the text "Special Note:" in the beginning of the specification. The only difference between a new specification line and a Special Note is the words "Special Note" placed in the beginning of the specification. The Special Note designation is used primarily to alert your field personnel that the specification line represents something that deviates from your standard specifications and/or was added specifically for that project.
  8. Use Checklist | Insert New Category to insert an entire new, blank category description ready for further editing.
  9. Use Checklist | Insert Allowance to insert a blank allowance description at the bottom of the current category.
  10. Always keep your specifications to one row maximum. Break up long specifications into separate rows if needed.
  11. Always save the SpecWriter Master File after you've added or revised the Checklist.

Customizing the Takeoff

  1. Open the Takeoff menu to view the menu options.
  2. You can add, edit or delete any row in the Takeoff.
  3. You can also insert a blank new section anywhere in the Takeoff.

Saving the Master File

  1. Always make any permanent changes to your specifications in your SpecWriter Master File. (SpecWriter Master File.xls)
  2. After making any permanent changes, always save the SpecWriter Master File by using File | Save to Hard Disc to replace your previous copy of your SpecWriter Master File.

Advanced Features

Changing Customer Type

  1. Use File | Set Customer Type.
  2. This command will allow you to replace the word "Owner" throughout the entire Program with any of the following alternates:
    • Buyer
    • Agent
    • Property Manager
    • Lease Holder
  3. You may switch back to "Owner" at any time.

Using the Takeoff

  1. The Takeoff page provides you with an area to calculate and record the Project's basic quantitative measurements.
  2. Based upon your entries, the Takeoff will perform quantitative calculations for masonry, roofing, drywall, etc.
  3. The SpecWriter Takeoff performs a Quantitative Takeoff that calculates the size of the project's various elements such as the lineal foot of baseboard or the square footage of roof surface. These are the figures needed to perform the estimate.
  4. The Takeoff is not designed to perform a Materials Takeoff such as counting the number of concrete blocks or pieces of plywood needed to place an actual delivery order. We hope that you are using unit costs to estimate, and thus not performing the tedious chore of preparing material takeoffs until after you actually sign a contract.
  5. Once you've completed the Takeoff, you can access and transfer any of the figures from the Takeoff into the Estimate page by pressing Control-L from the Estimate page at any time.
  6. Using the SpecWriter Takeoff is entirely optional. Some SpecWriter users use the Takeoff every time, and other users calculate the numbers manually and enter them directly on the Estimate Worksheet.

Using the Field Notes

  1. The Field Notes are a document created from your Checklist that is specially formatted to be used to take notes during discussions with potential customers.
  2. When you return to your computer to write the specifications, your printed notes match your SpecWriter Checklist.
  3. When you select the menu command Generate Field Notes the program will...
    • Copy the checklist in that file, exactly as you have it customized, exactly as you've collapsed it, to the Field Notes page.
    • Reduce the font size to create room for handwritten notes.
    • Place checkboxes next to each specifications.
    • Reformats the page to a more 'handwriting" friendly format.
  4. I recommend generating and printing the Field Notes only when you've made changes to your SpecWriter Master File since you're last printing.
  5. Instead of printing the Field Notes from your computer, It's easier to bring the Field Notes to a print shop and have them print you multiple copies.

Using Checklist Templates

  1. Templates are Checklist selections you decided to memorized and name as a group.
  2. In other words, you can memorize how you've tagged on the entire Checklist, give it a template name, and later recall that template at any time.
  3. Templates are intended to allow you to pre-configure typical projects as a "quick start" for writing specifications for a new project.
  4. For example, you can memorize the basic specifications for a commercial tenant build-out (demo, metal stud walls, suspended ceiling, etc.) in your Master File, then use the template each time you are specifying that type of project.
  5. After selecting a template to get started, you should then proceed with reviewing the Checklist to make any necessary changes and additions for the specific project.

Switching to the Excel Menu

  1. This command will allow you to jump back and forth between the custom SpecWriter menu and the standard Excel menu.
  2. You may switch to the Excel menu at any time, however, we are not responsible for anything you do to the file from within Excel. This includes performing any of the items listed in the next section.
  3. While In the Excel menu, Please DO NOT...
    • Change the height of any row anywhere in the Program.
    • Perform massive moving and copying of the Checklist Categories.
    • Attempt to word wrap a specification that's too long for one row.
    • Change the font sizes.
    • Ask us to fix anything you did while you were in the Excel menu, which is outside of our programming control.

Advanced Strategies

Using Template Files

  1. Template Files are SpecWriter files you've setup for a specific purpose.
  2. Template Files can be setup for your model homes, which will allow you to quickly revise them for a specific buyer.
  3. Template Files can also be setup for re-occurring projects, such as a typical remodeling project you estimate repeatedly.
  4. Don't get confused by the concept of a Template File, they are simply files you've already created for a general type of project that you will open again and customize for a specific project.

Copying SpecWriter Files

  1. On occasion you may need to copy a SpecWriter file from one computer to another, for example from your laptop to your desktop.
  2. The typical SpecWriter file is usually too large to fit on the standard 3.5 inch 1.44 meg floppy disc.
  3. For these occasions we recommend you utilize a file compression utility program such as PowerArchiver to compress the file, thus making it small enough to fit on the floppy.
  4. PowerArchiver, WinZip (and other similar programs) are quite easy to use, and will allow you to create a "zipped" file (which will require you to have PowerArchiver on the target computer to un-zip it) OR to create a "self-extracting" file that can "unzip" itself on the target computer by simply double-clicking the file name.
  5. We have included PowerArchiver on our distribution CD for your convience. You can also download a free copy of PowerArchiver from our Download page or directly from the publisher at www.PowerArchiver.com.

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