Standards Development: The Scoop on Scope

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Source: Mary C. McKiel, PhD, ASB Communication Liaison

This is the first in a series of articles that will delve into the inner workings of standards development that are underway through the American Academy of Forensic Sciences’ subsidiary, the Academy Standards Board (ASB). The purpose is to share information with the broader AAFS community on what standardization work consists of, including the meaning and importance of individual elements within a standard.

While the title of a standard or guide identifies the subject matter of the document, the accompanying scope identifies the specific aspects of the subject. For example, the specific aspects may relate to measurement, best practice, protocols, etc. Scopes may also include an intended application and a short description of what is not included. For example, if the topic and content of a standard is accurate measurement of a particular material’s strength, then the scope would indicate the parameters of the material and exclude those outside the parameters.

A good scope provides the reader with enough information to determine if the standard or guide suits the reader’s purpose and is worth obtaining. On the other hand, a good scope generally does not include discussion on the need for the document or background information. Those elements are properly placed in the introduction to the standard or guide.

Another important consideration in writing and reading a document’s scope is connected to accreditation. Under rules promulgated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which apply to ASB, each standard should have a unique purpose and content in order to avoid duplication of standards in the market place. The scope of a document is the key source for reviewing and determining the exact nature of—and therefore the uniqueness of—the standard or guide. ASB and other standards bodies regularly check ANSI’s Standards Action publication to see if there are possible duplications. Where duplications exist, the standards organizations in question generally work out a solution that often means refining the scope of one or both of the documents in question.

The following are good examples of titles and scopes from two ASB documents that are underway.

  1. Title: Wildlife Forensic DNA Standard Procedures
    This standard covers the application of genetic techniques in analyzing wildlife forensic evidence. Also covered are: specific wildlife DNA analyses, such as DNA sequencing for the identification of class characters, DNA fragment analysis of Short Tandem Repeats (STRs) for establishing individual identity, and includes validation of databases for comparison. Of particular concern are phylogeny, taxonomy, and reference collections that are specific to wildlife forensic science.
  2. Title: Wildlife Forensics Validation Standards – New Tests for Validating Short Tandem Repeat (STR) Primers
    This document provides minimum standards and recommendations for validating new STR (Short Tandem Repeat, nuclear DNA) markers for use against validated wildlife forensic DNA databases.

Next in this series will be an article concerning the consensus process, which is at the very heart of the accredited standards development that ASB is undertaking in a wide range of forensics subjects. Future articles will focus on outreach and maintenance of standards. Please send comments and questions to the author ( or any ASB staff member via the ASB link on the AAFS web page.