Defining terms together: another data point

I’ve often argued that related terms need to be defined together to ensure consistency and completeness of coverage of a domain.  I’ve bee...

I’ve often argued that related terms need to be defined together to ensure consistency and completeness of coverage of a domain.  I’ve been particularly adamant about defining knowledge, belief, and faith as a triplet of terms; likewise for function, behaviour, and structure.  I’ve found another doublet of terms to which this rule applies, albeit it’s in a specific research context.

Yesterday, I met with a colleague and one of his PhD students. The student is working on developing ways of accurately measuring organizational performance such that both issues of quality and ergonomics are considered.  The background is simple: historically, both ergonomics and quality of production have mattered, but they’ve been treated as disjoint and uncoupled features of organizations.  In truth, they are tightly coupled because good human factors helps increase quality.

The student was using two terms, metric and indicator, together - often in the same sentence - but didn’t seem to be able to communicate the distinction between them very well.  I'm sure he knew what he meant, but he seemed to have some difficulty getting the right words out.  If he talked about what one term meant, he did so without mentioning any relationships the one had to or with the other.

I suggested that he should define them together, and with respect to concepts that were more fundamental than either of the terms themselves.  Clearly, in his work, the terms were particularly meaningful in how they identified different features of the situations he was analyzing.  To make sure that (a) the domain of interest was completely covered by the two terms, yet (b) there was no conceptual overlap (and therefore ambiguity) between them, they needed to be defined together.

To do this, I offered an analogy to a dial gauge.  The indicator is like a particular reading - the “needle,” if you will, of the gauge, while the metric is the dial against which the needle moves - the scale, the range of values, the units….  This seemed to go over quite well.  Given this crisp distinction, he ought to be able to make very clear statements about various data, facts, and observations in his research, and not ever confuse what the indicator is, and what the metric is. I knew I was onto something because he lit up and told me that was exactly how he thought of the terms.

This lends support, I think, to the notion of defining groups of terms together.



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The Trouble with Normal...: Defining terms together: another data point
Defining terms together: another data point
The Trouble with Normal...
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