Explaining the importance of operational definitions to students Academic Article uri icon


  • In science, the precise use of terms and consistency in the way measurements are performed are essential for the dissemination of knowledge acquired through research. Without precision and consistency, the information may not be understandable to others, or it may be misleading. For these reasons, scientists must precisely define the methods by which they perform measurements in research projects. Such definitions are known as operational definitions because they specify the operation, or procedure, that the researcher followed to obtain the measurement. This process also establishes a consistent procedure for other researchers to follow. Occasionally, researchers may need to create new measures to gain additional understanding of a feature or phenomenon. If so, they are obligated to explain the rationale for the new measures and to provide a clear, concise operational definition for the new measures. From our work on river meanders, we found that map scale and measurement precision are two important components that must be included in an operational definition. The exercise that accompanies this article allows students to develop an operational definition through the practical work of measuring meanders on diagrams.

published proceedings

  • Journal of Geoscience Education

author list (cited authors)

  • Gillespie, B. M., & Giardino, J. R

complete list of authors

  • Gillespie, BM||Giardino, JR

publication date

  • December 1998