The main purposes in writing this paper are to discuss the importance of formal specifications and to survey a number of promising specification techniques. The role of formal specifications both in proofs of program correctness, and in programming methodologies leading to programs which are correct by construction, is explained. Some criteria are established for evaluating the practical potential of specification techniques. The importance of providing specifications at the right level of abstraction is discussed, and a particularly interesting class of specification techniques, those used to construct specifications of data abstractions, is identified. A number of specification techniques for describing data abstractions are surveyed and evaluated with respect to the criteria. Finally, directions for future research are indicated. © 1975, ACM. All rights reserved.