What are ASTM Standards?

by A. Michelle Caldwell; Updated September 26, 2017

ASTM Standards are documents developed and published by ASTM International. Founded in 1898, it was known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The name was changed to ASTM International to reflect the international character of members, contributors and standards users. Although the standards are voluntary, they are frequently referred to, cited in and incorporated into codes, regulations and laws around the world. Standards are developed and written by members of ASTM technical committees (producers, users, consumers and general interest parties; many of whom are scientists). ASTM develops six types of standards.

Test Method Standard

A test method standard has a short and informative description of a procedure to determine a property or constituent of a material, a collection of materials or a product. To achieve satisfactory precision, the test method should include details about test apparatus, test specimen, test procedure and calculations of data obtained from the test. An example would be the Standard Test Methods for Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive-Coated Tapes Used for Electrical and Electronic Applications. This standard outlines tests to evaluate the safety of electrical tape. If all electrical tapes are evaluated using the same test, then it is easier to determine which tape is best suited for a particular use.

Specification Standard

A specification standard has a detailed set of conditions and provisions that a material, product, system or service must meet. It will also identify what test methods are appropriate to determine whether it meets the criteria of the standard. The Standard Specification for File Folders for Storage of Permanent Records outlines what qualities file folders used in the storage of records and documents should have to achieve a maximum life span.

Classification Standard

A classification standard outlines the requirements to systematically assign materials, products, systems or services into groups. Examples of requirements include origin, composition, physical properties and chemical properties. The Standard Classification of Coppers covers kinds of copper available in refinery shapes and wrought products. When companies use this standard to classify the copper they sell, it allows buyers to more easily compare prices of the same product from different companies before they make a purchase.

Practice Standard

A practice standard gives specific instructions for performing a specific task or operation. For example, the Standard Practice for Functional Inspections and Adjustments of Alpine Ski/Binding/Boot Systems outlines procedures for inspection and adjustment of alpine ski/binding/boot systems.

Guide Standard

A guide standard has several choices or instructions but does not advise a particular action. Based on the individual situation, the user selects the choice or instructions that best suit the situation. The Standard Guide for Examination of Typewritten Items helps forensic document examiners decide which procedure should be used to examine a typewritten document, perhaps for a criminal investigation.

Terminology Standard

A terminology standard outlines and defines terms, symbols, abbreviations and acronyms used in a field or industry. Because many chemicals can have more than one name, The Standard Terminology of Aromatic Hydrocarbons and Related Chemicals allows scientists and other chemical users to read a paper or article written by others and easily understand and identify which chemicals are being discussed without the author having to provide extensive definitions within the document.


About the Author

A. Michelle Caldwell left a growing biotech company in 1996 to pursue a career in technical writing and has never looked back. Initially writing only MSDSs, she has branched out over the years to include projects such as ghostwriting a column in the local newspaper. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry from Brown University and a certificate in copyediting from UCSD Extension.