Data Definitions Best Practices

University Data Governance

July 21, 2022

Writing a data definition:

Data definitions should describe and explain the meaning of the data elements, data entities or related concepts. They should also attempt to describe any context for which a term is used. A well-formed definition should be:

  • Concise: Descriptions should be as succinct as possible.
  • Precise: Descriptions should use unambiguous words where possible.
  • Non-Circular: The term(s) being described should not be used in the definition.
  • Distinct: Described in a way that differentiates the term from others.
  • Unencumbered: The definition should not refer to a location or how it was created, where possible.

The context should include (where possible):

  • Broader Term: The class of the thing being defined, often using the "IS A" relationship. (A University is an organization.)
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Attributes that differentiate the item being defined from other items in the same class often using the "HAS A" relationship. (A University has anacademic program.)
  • Function Qualifier: A description of how the item(s) being defined is/are used or core functionality of the item, often using a "USED FOR" relationship. (A University is used for bringing students together in order to educate them.)

All definitions should start with the restating of the term ("An Employee is...") and be written as complete sentences. These recommendations reduce the risk of ambiguity and can improve the readability or understandability of the content. Additionally, this practice helps to point out any potential circular definitions.

Where to store data definitions:

All definitions should be documented, maintained and/or kept up-to-date within the Data Cookbook.

Also, within the Data Cookbook, one can find report specification information for reporting items that may be available for use in University Systems (i.e. Workday) with the appropriate security access/approval.