Different types of standards

What are the different types of standard?

Standards all have the same basic purpose of setting out agreed principles or criteria so that their users can make reliable assumptions about a particular product, service or practice.

However, they can vary in two major respects:

  • the type of agreement
  • the number of people, organisations or countries who were involved in making the agreement.

In some standards, the type of agreement essentially amounts to advice and guidance; others are much more prescriptive and set out absolute requirements that have to be met if a user wishes to make a claim of compliance with the standard.

Different subject areas and different user groups have needs for differing forms and levels of standardisation, and BSI tries to cater for all these needs.

British Standards

Most standards published by BSI carry the status of “British Standard”. This indicates that they have been developed using the processes set out in BS 0, A standard for standards. The principal characteristic of a British Standard is that it is produced by a process that involves:

  • a committee – a widely-based group of experts nominated by organisations who have an interest in the content and application of the standard
  • consultation – making a draft available for scrutiny and comment to anyone who might be interested in it
  • consensus – the principle that the content of the standard is decided by general agreement of as many as possible of the committee members, rather than by majority voting.

This process reinforces the authority of the standard and helps to ensure that it will be accepted by a very wide range of people who might be interested in applying it.

British Standards may be developed entirely within the UK by BSI committees, or, in most cases, are adoptions of international standards developed under very similar processes and, almost always, involving strong UK participation.


A PAS is in many respects similar to a British Standard. However it is always developed in response to a commission by an external sponsor who funds a resource-intensive process which allows it to be developed and published quickly to satisfy an immediate business need.

Other standards

Some standards don’t need to be backed by the same degree of public consultation and consensus. In many cases they are provisional, and subject to further development on the basis of experience gained during the first year or two of their use.

These include standard-type documents that don’t have the same status as British Standards and come under the catch-all category of Published Documents (PD).

We can also help design and implement private standards designed primarily for use within a company or organisation and with its suppliers, or by a group of organisations forming part of a membership body.

Categories of standards

Most standards can be categorized according to the function they need to perform. The most common is the Specification, which is a highly prescriptive standard setting out detailed absolute requirements. It is commonly used for product safety purposes or for other applications where a high degree of certainty and assurance is required by its user community.

Codes of practice recommend sound good practice as currently undertaken by competent and conscientious practitioners. They are drafted to incorporate a degree of flexibility in application, whilst offering reliable indicative benchmarks. They are commonly used in the construction and civil engineering industries.

Methods are also highly prescriptive, setting out an agreed way of measuring, testing or specifying what is reliably repeatable in different circumstances and places, wherever it needs to be applied.
A Vocabulary is a set of terms and definitions to help harmonize the use of language in a particular subject or discipline.

Guides are published to give less prescriptive advice which reflects the current thinking and practice amongst experts in a particular subject.

Other categories of standard can be employed as necessary.