Disambiguation by Context: Guidelines for Building World-Class Business Glossaries

Ronald G.  Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal , and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross
Extracted fromHow to Define Business Terms in Plain English:  A Primer, Ronald G. Ross, 2016 (free download).  http://www.brsolutions.com/b_ipspeakprimers.php

A fundamental goal for a business vocabulary is to standardize meaning such that every term can be used without ambiguity in any business communication.  Therefore, each term should have one and only one meaning.

Achieving that goal, unfortunately, is not always possible.  The scope of intended usage for a vocabulary may include some audience for which a particular term has a deeply ingrained and well-justified meaning that unavoidably clashes with the meaning for some other audience — or possibly even that same audience.  As the scope of the vocabulary grows wider, the more likely such clashes become.

Where standardizing the meaning of an entry proves pragmatically unachievable, the entry should be disambiguated by context.

Let's take a close look at some examples where disambiguation by context may be the only viable solution.

Example:  work product

Definition likely to clash:  a diagram, document, or collection of notes created by business analysts in business modeling or requirements development

This definition defines work product for an audience of business analysts.  But operational business areas also have work products for conducting day-to-day work — e.g., bills of lading, blueprints, estimates, price quotes, schematics, etc.

The definition above is therefore likely to clash with understanding of work product by a business audience.  Even if no business audience per se is within the scope of vocabulary usage, the definition could cause confusion within the business analyst audience itself.  Day-to-day work products used by some targeted business area are often examined as a routine part of business analysis activity.

The preferred solution is to rename work product for business analysts' own activities using appropriate qualification — e.g., business analysis work product.

That solution, however, may be deemed too disruptive.  In such case the entry should be qualified by context, as follows:

work product [business analysis]

a diagram, document, or collection of notes created by business analysts in business modeling or requirements development

This revised entry includes a second term in brackets, business analysis, to ensure the context of the definition is clear.  This second term should itself also have a definition in the business vocabulary.

Example:  product

Definition likely to clash:  a solution created by business analysts for some business need(s), usually but not always ultimately including software

This definition defines product for an audience of business analysts.  But in day-to-day work, operational business areas also support products — the value-add goods or services requested by third parties.  The definition above is therefore likely to clash.

The preferred solution is to rename product for business analysts' own activities using appropriate qualification — e.g., business analysis product.

That solution, however, may be deemed too disruptive.  In such case the entry should be qualified by context, as follows:

product [business analysis]

a solution created by business analysts for some business need(s), usually but not always ultimately including software

This revised entry includes a second term in brackets, business analysis, to ensure the context of the definition is clear.

Working Together in Harmony

The careful reader may have noticed that the two disambiguated definitions in the examples presented in this discussion (for work product [business analysis] and product [business analysis], respectively) violate common-sense guidelines.  The definition of the qualified term, work product [business analysis], does not build on the definition of the unqualified term, product [business analysis].

This anomaly can be eliminated by using the latter term as the kick-off word in the definition of the former term.

work product [business analysis]

a product [business analysis] in the form of a diagram, document, or collection of notes created in business modeling or requirements development

This revised definition for work product [business analysis] features the new kick-off word product [business analysis].  The phrase by business analysts has also been removed from the definition since it already appears in the definition of broader concept, product [business analysis].  The revised definition assumes a work product [business analysis] has the sense of solutionfor some business need(s), the essence of the meaning of product [business analysis].  This assumption, of course, should be validated carefully.

For further information, please visit BRSolutions.com     

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Standard citation for this article:


citations icon
Ronald G. Ross , " Disambiguation by Context: Guidelines for Building World-Class Business Glossaries" Business Rules Journal Vol. 18, No. 8, (Aug. 2017)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2017/b916.html

About our Contributor:


Ronald  G. Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal , and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Ronald G. Ross is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he actively develops and applies the IPSpeak methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak.

Ron is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He is the author of ten professional books including the groundbreaking first book on business rules The Business Rule Book in 1994. His newest are:


Ron serves as Executive Editor of BRCommunity.com and its flagship publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences world-wide. More than 50,000 people have heard him speak; many more have attended his seminars and read his books.

Ron has served as Chair of the annual International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997., now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where he serves as Co-Chair. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of its Business Motivation Model (BMM) standard and the Business Rules Manifesto. He is active in OMG standards development, with core involvement in SBVR.

Ron holds a BA from Rice University and an MS in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology. Find Ron's blog on http://www.brsolutions.com/category/blog/. For more information about Ron visit www.RonRoss.info. Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross

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