operational definition

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operational definition (plural operational definitions)

  1. A showing of something — such as a variable, term, or object — in terms of the specific process or set of validation tests used to determine its presence and quantity.
    • 1942, George A. Lundberg, Operational Definitions in the Social Sciences[1]:
      The position of certain recent publications is examined and criticized because they seem to imply (a) that under some circumstances ambiguous concepts are more useful than precise ones and (b) that operational difinitions are of limited usefulness in sociology because of their dependence upon quantitative characteristics, whereas some items referred to by sociological concepts are "essentially qualitative in nature." Both assumptions are here questioned.
    • 1943, Stuart C. Dodd and Ethel Shanas, Operational Definitions Operationally Defined[2]:
      Those sociologists who advocate greater use of operational definitions have been challenged to define "operational definition" operationally. This paper attempts to meet that challenge.
    • 2017, Leonardo Bich & Sara Green, Is defining life pointless? Operational definitions at the frontiers of Biology[3]:
      By analysing the practical utility of definitions of life in scientific practice, we propose that definitions of life in these domains should be considered in a non-standard and weaker sense, as operational definitions. This choice of terminology is inspired by the use of the same term in the scientific literatures of Origins of Life and Synthetic Biology (e.g., Fleischaker, 1990; Luisi 1998). We use the term ‘operational’ in a wide sense, referring both to (1) the possibility to define something by means of operations (e.g., defining an entity by measuring or building it following a specific procedure), and (2) the idea that the contents of the definition (e.g., the conditions for life) can be operationalised for empirical research, that is, can be built, manipulated and tested in the laboratory.


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