Capturing the Essence of Concepts: 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

There are various schools of thought about how to define terms, some arising from professional terminologists and academia.  But those approaches are often relatively arcane and not well-suited to everyday business practice.

So ConceptSpeak™, the BRS approach, stays with common dictionary practices.  They are perfectly adequate for your needs.  By 'dictionary' I mean natural language dictionaries of course, not any kind of dictionary arising from IT (e.g., data dictionaries).

Definitions with subtle IT or 'data' bias are an anathema to effective communication with business partners.  Good business definitions are oriented to what words mean when used by real business people talking directly about real business things.

Guideline 1.  The definition of a term should express the essence of the concept, not its purpose, function, or use.

Discussion:  Things can have multiple purposes, functions, or uses, and those things may vary in different contexts or over time.  The core essence of a concept, in contrast, varies little or not at all viewed from different perspectives or at different times.  Effective business communication requires focusing on core meaning.

Example:  business requirement

Poor definition:  a need or demand required of a solution by some stakeholder(s) which will serve as a bridge to system design

The phrase which will serve as a bridge to system design in this definition explains one purpose of a business requirement.  That purpose may be paramount to some people, but perhaps not to others.  For example, business requirements might be used by business staff to prepare for training of workers or new hires.  The business staff might not care about, or might even disagree with, the expressed rationale.

Explanation of purpose, function, or use should be removed from definitions.  If worth retaining for future reference, it can be given as separate note(s) for the term's entry.  That way the definition itself can serve equally well for multiple audiences, each with different ideas or insights about the relevance of the concept.

Revised entry: 

business requirementa need or demand required of a solution by some stakeholder(s) in the business

Note:  Business requirements often serve as a bridge to system design.

Guideline 2.  A definition should be clear about whether the concept being defined is an individual or a general concept.

Discussion:  Definitions are often required for individual things, especially when the individual is abstract or intangible rather than a particular person or place.  Special caution should be exercised for words that can be taken in the sense of either individual or general concept.

Example:  observation

Poor definition:  assessing a work environment as a means to elicit requirements

The intended meaning of observation could be either of the following:

  • a particular method of eliciting requirements.

  • a particular act or instance of using that method to elicit requirements.

Which is meant?  The former meaning views observation as one particular method of eliciting requirements.  As such it designates an individual, one particular thing.  In the following definition note use of the, rather than a, to correctly indicate the thing is one particular individual (of the general concept method).

Revised definition 1:  the method of eliciting requirements that is based on direct viewing of a work environment

The second meaning above views observation as an act where the given method is actually applied, presumably one act among many others of the same kind.  In the following definition note use of an, rather than the, to correctly indicate the definition refers to any of many individuals.  The kick-off word has also been changed from method to act or instance.

Revised definition 2:  an act or instance of eliciting requirements that is based on direct viewing of a work environment

For further information, please visit BRSolutions.com     

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Standard citation for this article:


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Ronald G. Ross , "Capturing the Essence of Concepts: Guidelines for Building World-Class Business Glossaries" Business Rules Journal Vol. 18, No. 7, (Jul. 2017)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2017/b912.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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