Why Are We So Obtuse About the Meaning of 'Data Quality'?!

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

Data Quality. What does it mean to you? Is it a process or a thing? It's surprisingly hard to find a simple, intuitive definition. And the more definitions you read, the worse it gets. That says something worrisome about our ability to communicate effectively.

Here is a definition in wide use:

the planning, implementation, and control of activities that apply quality management techniques to data, in order to assure it is fit for consumption and meet the needs of data consumers

No, that is the definition of 'data quality assurance' or 'data quality governance', not 'data quality' per se. Different concepts. Why are they being conflated?! If professionals in the data field can't be clear when they communicate, how happy are 'data consumers' likely to be?

Just the Essence

Let's build a simple, intuitive definition for 'data quality' from the ground-up, one that is not overloaded. The most relevant definition for 'quality' in Merriam-Webster Unabridged is probably: 2a(1): degree of excellence : GRADE, CALIBER. Clearly, most professionals do think of 'data quality' as something that can be measured or graded — as in, 'how good is your data'.

So, I would define 'data quality' simply as:

fitness of data for purpose

Simple, intuitive — just the essence of the concept the term denotes.

Now if you like, we can talk clearly about what to call "the planning, implementation, and control of activities that apply quality management techniques to data." But that's a different question.

No Hand-Waving

In the new definition, you may notice I left out the part "in order to assure it is fit for consumption and meet the needs of data consumers."

You really don't ever want to see "in order to" in a definition. Whatever follows is bound to talk about the importance, relevance, motivation, or purpose of the concept. That's not what a good definition does. It should simply communicate the essence of the concept.

Leave the hand-waving for elsewhere. It's hard enough just to agree basic meaning. A definition should just be a definition, not a position statement.


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Standard citation for this article:


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Ronald G. Ross, "Why Are We So Obtuse About the Meaning of 'Data Quality'?!" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 23, No. 06, (Jun. 2022)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2022/c096.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 BRS 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

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