The request for information (RFI) is an important element of effective project management. You can gain time and cost savings by writing good RFIs and sending them in promptly. If you fail to write timely and effective RFIs, you will likely incur loss of money and time that could have been easily avoided by writing an RFI.
This article is a surface look at the basic fundamentals of writing an RFI. My article on How to Edit an RFI is a deeper dive with more advice and details on how to write an RFI.
Table of Contents
- What is an RFI?
- When to write an RFI
- Why write an RFI?
- Where to send the RFI
- Three Rules of an Effective RFI
- Recommended RFI Outline
- Example RFI
What is an RFI?
A Request for Information (RFI) is a means for obtaining information from the engineer, owner, designer or construction manager. An RFI’s purpose is to get clarification on contract documents, design intent, or provide missing information needed to complete work on the project.
When to write an RFI
1. The best time to submit an RFI is before the project bids!
- Most bids will provide a cut-off date for when pre-bid questions can be submitted
- Ensures everyone is bidding on the same criteria
- Provides opportunity for design changes and costs to be incorporated at bidding time
2. When writing an RFI after the project is underway
- Write RFIs as early in the project as possible.
- Early RFIs get quicker responses. Reviewers will have less documentation to review.
- The earlier you resolve a problem the lower the potential costs to both you and the owner.
- Write an RFI immediately when you see a potential problem, conflict, missing information, etc. Do not procrastinate!
- It is never too late to write an RFI. When necessary you can submit an RFI while work is ongoing.
Why write an RFI?
Four Reasons to Write an RFI
- If it could reduce time or costs for you or another party.
- Contract documents contain incomplete, contradictory or missing information.
- To prevent emergencies which can lead to work stoppages during fabrication or installation.
- To protect yourself from potential delays and cost increases due to design errors, omissions, and other problems in the contract documents.
Where to Send the RFI
- Send the RFI directly to the entity you are contracted with.
- A supplier or subcontractor will typically submit an RFI to the general contractor (GC). The GC will submit to the reviewer for response.
- Note: GC should review the RFI, answer directly if possible, or submit to the reviewing party.
Three Rules of an Effective RFI
Use the “three Cs” method to guide you when writing an RFI.
- Be Clear
- Be Concise
- Be Correct
1. Be Clear
- An RFI should be written so that anyone without prior knowledge of the situation can clearly understand the question.
- Make the RFI self-contained as much as feasible, attach sketches, contract drawings or other references with the RFI document.
- Exclude data that is not directly relevant to the information requested.
- The goal is to make the RFI easy to understand and written in a way that a complete and final answer can be provided by the reviewer.
- A poorly written RFI will often lead to more questions and require multiple responses between the reviewer and questioning party.
2. Be Concise
- Use as only as many words as necessary to describe the problem clearly.
- Read and re-read the RFI, edit and remove any unnecessary words and condense language when practical.
3. Be Correct
- Thoroughly review the plans and specifications prior to writing and submitting an RFI. Do not ask a question when the answer is already contained in the contract documents. Contradicting information can often be resolved by referencing the order of precedence.
- Double check references to contract drawing numbers, sections, details and specifications. Typos cause confusion and can make the question unclear or inaccurate.
- Ensure all statements are accurate. Avoid using statements that are opinions, assumptions or generalizations that may not be true and accurate.
Recommended RFI Outline
This is the structure I use when composing an RFI.
- State what the drawing says.
- Reference the specific contract drawing(s) and detail(s).
- Quote the related project specification when applicable.
- State the problem.
- Be specific. What is impacted? Where exactly is the location?
- Include sketches, photos, or contract drawing markups.
- Ask for a solution.
- The best default option is to let the designer provide the solution.
- You may propose an idea if you have seen the same problem on other projects or have a specific preferred solution in mind that will save you time or costs.
- Closing statement.
- Please advise which option is correct.
- Please advise if this is acceptable.
- Please provide clarification or alternate detail.
- There may be added costs if [XYZ happens].
Example of an Unclear and Wordy RFI
We are under contract with ABC General Contractor to provide the structural steel for Building Z and in the process of detailing we found a discrepancy on the drawings that is delaying us from finishing our submittal drawings. Per the contract drawings on sheet S03 section A the beams are shown as W8x10, on section B the beams are shown as W10x12, can you clarify which beam size is the correct one to use since they both say something different?
Here is the Same RFI but more Clear and Concise
At Building Z, drawing S03 section A shows the beams as W8x10 and section B shows W10x12, please advise which size should be used.
For further reading on how to write an RFI. See my article on How to Edit an RFI which has more specific details on how to write an RFI.