Rebecca J. Duffy for The Data Administration Newsletter
At some point in your grade school education you learned about various parts of speech, for example the difference between a noun and a verb. Nouns represent the subject and the object in a
sentence, and the verb is the action. You also learned about adjectives — an adjective is a word that describes a noun. As a review, let’s analyze the following sentence: “The customer places a discounted order.” In this sentence “customer” is a noun and the subject of the sentence; “places” is a verb, the action that occurs; “order” is another noun, the object of the action; and “discounted” describes the order, so it is an adjective. Pretty basic stuff. And in grade school you probably thought it was fairly useless. Other than getting a good grade in English class, when
would knowing these various parts of speech ever be useful to you? As a data analyst developing computer information applications — that’s when.
The sentence, “The customer places a discounted order,” represents a business rule to a data analyst. Business rules are the fundamental policies, processes, and principles by which a company
conducts business. A business rule statement provides input to a data analyst that is necessary to enable developing a stable foundation for a shareable database that can support a multitude of
business functions within a company. These functions (or the verbs the company performs) are the mission and tasks of the business, such as Marketing, Order Fulfillment, Cash Management, etc.
The data analyst builds a logical model to represent the business rules. This model contains the categories of data elements that are important to the business functions the model must support. It
also contains relationships between these categories of data. The categories in question are the “nouns” found in the business rules. From our example, Customer and Order represent two categories
of information used in business. The data elements in each category are also “nouns.” (The customer-name, customer-address, customer-birthdate are data elements that describe the Customer. These
are data elements that “Customer” categorizes.) And the “verbs” in the business rules are the relationships between these categories.
The grade school grammar lesson helps the data analyst to properly organize the numerous details of the business practices. These details, when organized, can be translated into an operable
computer application which supports the business mission. The discipline encouraged by classifying the proper parts of speech applies well to the discipline needed in classifying data elements for
building sharable databases.
And remember the emphasis placed on spelling in grade school? Did you know there are no spelling contests in schools in Spanish-speaking countries? This is because a word in the Spanish language is
spelled exactly as it sounds when pronounced. Those speaking Spanish have no need for memory tricks English-speaking school students learn, such as “I before E except after C, or when the sound is like A, as in neighbor and weigh.” The English language has so many varying rules of pronunciation that using pronunciation alone as a guide will not always lead to its proper spelling. For example, it is possible to spell fish as ghoti if a certain set of pronunciation rules is applied. (I refer you to the end of this article for an explanation of how this is possible.)
Little memory rhymes are quite clever, helpful, and practically necessary for written communications to be clear and well received. Proper spelling is not mandatory for readers to understand a
written statement. A person can discern the intended meaning of a word, even misspelled, based on the context of the sentence. However, when the “reader” is computer software, you better check
your spelling. Computer programs are not as discerning as people when it comes to poor spelling. They have no mercy. Not only must the spelling be correct, but proper placement of “words” or
syntax is imperative.
And to make matters worse, the “words” representing data elements are restricted in length by the computer software. For example, a DB2 column name is limited to 18 characters. To help
programmers and business users of computer software applications remember the proper spelling, of data elements standard abbreviations for business words are recommended. Guidelines for using
standard abbreviations in an application development environment might include the following:
* In developing an abbreviation for a word, eliminate vowels first, followed by the least significant letters of the word, to create an abbreviation that resembles the word it abbreviates (e.g.,
REPORT is abbreviated RPT, PROMOTE is abbreviated PRMT, ACTUAL is abbreviated ACTL).
* Suggested abbreviations for a word SUFFIX:
or, er r
able, ble b
ance, ence c
I always knew the math lessons I learned in school would be useful to me. However, I am still amazed, and very pleased that the fundamental grammar lessons I learned during my grade school
education are put into practice every day in support of “The Information Age”.
How “fish” can be spelled ghoti: Using the sound of f as the gh in enough, of i as the o in women, and of sh as the ti in fiction, you can spell fish as ghoti.
(1) – Lista, Karen (1993). Logical Naming Conventions. Handbook of Data Management, ed. Barbara von Halle and David Kull, pp. 515-521. Boston, MA: Auerbach
(2) – Shaw, Harry (1993). Spell It Right! New York: HarperCollins
Rebecca J. Duffy is a Data Architect for a large financial institution. She has 20 years experience in application development within the corporate environment, specializing in data modeling,
data administration and business requirements analysis. She has taught data modeling and consulted on data modeling and meta data management in data warehouse development. Rebecca was interviewed
for an article titled “Client/Server Data Modeling – Science or Art?” published in the January 1996 issue of Data Management Review magazine.