Operational definition

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An operational definition defines something (e.g. a variable, term, or object) in terms of the specific process or set of validation tests used to determine its presence and quantity. That is, one defines something in terms of the operations that count as measuring it. The term was coined by Percy Williams Bridgman and is a part of the process of Operationalization. One might use definitions that rely on operations in order to avoid the troubles associated with attempting to define things in terms of some intrinsic essence.

An example of an operational definition might be defining the weight of an object in terms of the numbers that appear when that object is placed on a weighing scale. The weight then, is whatever results from following the (weight) measurement procedure, which should be repeatable by anyone. This is in contrast to Operationalization that uses theoretical definitions.



Properties described in this manner must be sufficiently accessible, so that persons other than the definer may independently measure or test for them at will.[citation needed] An operational definition is generally designed to model a theoretical definition. The most operational definition is a process for identification of an object by distinguishing it from its background of empirical experience.
The binary version produces either the result that the object exists, or that it doesn't, in the experiential field to which it is applied. The classifier version results in discrimination between what is part of the object and what is not part of it. This is also discussed in terms of semantics, pattern recognition, and operational techniques, such as regression.

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