At many a times I have emphasized on the importance of proper explanation of activity and its description while drafting Item Description while preparing BOQ. In this article I would be sharing that how an item description should be defined and then the method of writing a proper item description which is complete and clear in its form and intent. In my experience, not having a proper item description the ambiguity and confusion created by the same, costs more to the client than to the contractor so it is very important and the first step to check the cost overrun. It is said that if the BOQ is complete along with the proper item description, unit of measurement etc., then, half of the contract is taken care off. So its importance can be understood from the role it plays itself.

Most of the time contractors, sub-contractors and vendors suffer for the want of clear item description and they quote based on the understanding of partial and incomplete information shared. There may be many reasons for giving partial information in the item description but I’m sharing only those which I’ve come across over a period of time.

First and foremost reason is the lack of information and experience by the person who is drafting, writing and defining the Bill of quantities pertaining to a project. The lack of execution knowledge also leads the ambiguous description of item.

Second reason is the “intentional confusion creation” which we would not like to discuss here as the vested interest is deemed to be the reason behind such ambiguous item description.

Third reason may be attributed to the non-availability of complete information from the supplier side or the activity may be based on a new product. For example when Tremix flooring was introduced the item description used to be very vague as for most of the people Vacuum dewatering was a new subject and the sales man of this patented system were themselves not very clear about the execution of activity and its advantage over normal IPS flooring and the exact difference between VDF and IPS flooring.

Now the point is that how an item should be described so that it will convey the necessary & complete information and at the same time not lengthy to lose its purpose.

From my point of view based on my experience an item could be divided into three parts, viz.

  1. Description of activity i.e.
    1. what is the activity,
    2. How it shall be performed, for example Manual, Mechanized, partially manual partially mechanized etc.,
    3. Its tentative or exact location i.e. whether below ground level, above ground level, façade of the building, on the floor level etc.
  2. Scope of the work i.e.
    1. For example in the case of excavation if scope has to be defined then it will be mentioned along with lead, lift, disposal, transportation, watering etc. In short basic specifications & brief work methodology.
  3. Rate of materials, plant and activity covered i.e. the “Cost Includes”
    1. For example in the case of concrete activity the cost may include the cost of procurement of concrete with all ingredients, or excluding cement & admixture etc., the transportation cost of concrete from batching plant to the location of pouring / placing, the cost of pouring / placing of concrete.
    2. The make of material or source of material can be mentioned. In case of specialized procurement even a catalogue number can be mentioned.
    3. Material specifications, IS code reference etc.
    4. Method of measurement can also be mentioned to give better clarity.


While defining the activity if we take care of all the aforementioned points then this will make the activity & scope of vendor clear and there shall be no ambiguity at the time of execution and billing. At the same time the Engineer who drafts the Item Description should also ensure to avoid generalities in the item description. For example a regularly used phrase “Including all necessary activities required to perform the job” if at all this phrase is to be used then in the same item description exclusions shall also be mentioned to avoid unnecessary building of cost with no return for the vendor. Another phrase being widely used “Upto the satisfaction of Engineer-in-charge”, care should be taken to define the satisfaction criteria should be mentioned in the specifications or terms and conditions if being used.


The Unit of measurement should be defined properly which should match with the rate of item being executed and confirm to SP1200 – “Method of Measurements”


In the case of packages where a unit, machine or system is to be procured and installed including commissioning and it is very difficult or lengthy to write a complete item description then a small item description mentioning the brief scope and the reference to the detailed scope covering all the above mentioned parameters should be made. This will help in understanding the scope and would help better cost control.


Now what are the things which should not be part of the item description?

One should not mention the duration of activity, schedule of activity and penalties in the case of failure. Alternative materials if there is a huge rate difference in the basic or procurement rate, unviable source of procurement. Many other things which are not part of the cost inclusions and has got nothing to do with the individual item, all general items should be covered under terms and conditions.


Hope that this piece of information will give some insight to the engineers drafting the item description and preparing the bill of quantities.