Defining Terms in Data Models

by Kathy S
There’s a challenge when it comes to defining terms for data models. The author of the article asks the question, “Does defining the actions something performs solve our definition issues? Or are we instead adding complexities, for example, assigning more than one meaning to the same data element.”  The responses for those questions were grouped into 3 categories. “Defining a term by its actions is an effective technique” according to Madhu Sumkarpalli, who is a business intelligence consultant. He says it is better because that way they can be specific about the term or close to specific rather than being generic and abstract. Basing the term on its actions can define it appropriately and paint the proper picture. “Defining something by its actions is part of the solution” according to Amarjeet Virdi, who is a data architect. He says data entities are meant to represent real life objects and those objects perform functions. Then a new question comes up when the object ceases to perform its function then what? does it cease to exist or have no value to the business anymore? Complexity increases. “Defining something by its actions is not recommended” according to Wade Baskin, who is senior database architect. He says mixing process with data is a dangerous practice. Data should have only one definition regardless of the process. If the data changes as it matures then the change is reflected as a different data element. It is not good to change the current definition of an element based on process or location. Allowing fields with multiple meanings is dangerous and should be avoided. The author feels that defining a term by what it does is effective and it is at least a starting point because most business professionals define things by the roles they play. For example a person playing the role of a customer. The problem is though, is that this approach may eventually lead to data integration issues, hidden business logic and the question of what will happen to the term itself when the activity it performs stops.

I feel this article is related to what we’ve been learning. Recently we’re focusing on the Enhanced Entity-Relationship Model. One of the important things in the model are the entities/elements/terms themselves. When we make our data model we find out what are the important entities to write down in our diagram. Knowing the definition or knowing what those entities do is very important because that is how we make out the relationship they have with other entities.

I like that this article shows the different views of what professionals think is important to consider when it comes to defining data model terms. It gave me insight and totally changed my view on the importance of defining terms in a data model because the data model can be entirely affected when a term ceases to do what it does. Defining terms is very important.


Steve Hoberman. (2012, October 12). Batman versus the Evil Definitions. Retrieved October 14, 2012, from