Re: Inventing definitions (Was: What is a document?)

Subject: Re: Inventing definitions (Was: What is a document?)
From: Ginna Watts <gwatts -at- QUESTERCORP -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 17:45:47 -0800

Hmm, this discussion is getting interesting.

Jeroen Hendrix wrote:

> Document: A medium and the data recorded on it for human use. By
>extension, any record that has permanence and can be read by man or
>machine.

And Ben Kovitz added:

So here's what I suggest: think of some propositions that you want to say
about documents. Then just define "document" so that these propositions
are true. Just be aware that, as with all the other definitions, yours
will pick out a somewhat idiosyncratic piece of the world that you want to
talk about.

Hmm, this discussion is getting interesting. The definition above sounds
like the IEEE definition:
" Document - (1) A medium, and the information recorded on it, that
generally has permanence and can be read by a person or machine."
"Documentation - (1) A collection of documents on a given subject. (2) Any
written or pictorial information describing, defining, specifying,
reporting, or certifying activites, requirements, procedures or results."

I'll agree that this definition is extremely vague, but I think it needs to
be. While the IEEE definition can be open enough to include "credit cards
and movies", I think in some cases you (or someone else) may *want* to
define these things as documents.

I think you should "work backwards" - your (and your company's) needs and
perceptions will drive this. Why do you feel that credit cards and movies
should be excluded? How do they not fit your personal view of what a
"document" should be? I'd make a list of all the things you want to include
in your documentation definition, and come up with a statement that
includes these items, but excludes other things.

I've just been through this process in revamping our configuration
management system. Here, we've gone with the definition of documentation as
"any configuration item that is not a part in inventory" (my paraphrase).
We decided that our definition of "documentation" was document items,
software items and hardware items. (Ugly - but it was the best we came up
with.)

Document items are things that we traditionaly view as documents - plans,
manuals, design docs, test procedures etc.
Hardware items are "support" items for hardware design - schematics,
drawings, gerber files, parts lists, BOMs, calibration records etc.
Software items are source code, executables and related files.

What they all have in common is that our products are not considered
"documented" if any of these items are not completed. The other thing they
have in common is that the same configuration management principles apply
to all of them. Therefore, in our world, they are all documentation.

Ginna Watts
Technical Writer
Quester Tangent Corp.
Sidney, BC
gwatts -at- questercorp -dot- com


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