Capturing the Essence of Concepts: Guidelines for Building World-Class Business Glossaries

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.


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

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


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

Extracted from: How to Define Business Terms in Plain English: A Primer, Ronald G. Ross, 2016
(free download)

Ronald RossAuthor: Ronald Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC

Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.

With BRS’s client roster of Fortune 500 companies and governments, Ron consults, speaks and teaches worldwide. He has served as the chair of the International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference.

Ron is also the author of 10 professional books, as well as the executive editor of the Business Rules Journal. Through these publications, as well as on the online forum BRCommunity and his blog, Ron enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience in consulting and business rules.

Outside of work, Ron enjoys walking his dogs, travelling with his three children, and tweeting. For fresh nuggets of information, follow him @Ronald_G_Ross!

posted @ Sunday, January 22, 2017 9:29 PM by Transform VA