Information -- a working definition?

Subject: Information -- a working definition?
From: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 2010 05:54:06 -0700 (PDT)

It might be useful to actually try and define information. If we can agree on a working definition, we might even get a clearer understanding of what we do for a living.

Here's a groovy definition I found at

In general, raw data that (1) has been verified to be accurate and timely, (2) is specific and organized for a purpose, (3) is presented within a context that gives it meaning and relevance, and which (4) leads to increase in understanding and decrease in uncertainty. The value of information lies solely in its ability to affect a behavior, decision, or outcome. A piece of information is considered valueless if, after receiving it, things remain unchanged. For the technical meaning of information see information theory.

Now, whoever Business Dictionary is, I don't know. But that sounds like a pretty good working definition -- I'd be willing to use it as is. Further, try replacing "information" with "technical writing." Technical writing is considered valueless if, after reading it, things remain unchanged. (The FOO option foos a bar. To foo a bar, click FOO.)

Online Webster is a bit harder to parse for our purposes, but let's try...

1 : the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence
2 a (1) : knowledge obtained from investigation, study, or instruction (2) : intelligence, news (3) : facts, data b : the attribute inherent in and communicated by one of two or more alternative sequences or arrangements of
something (as nucleotides in DNA or binary digits in a computer
program) that produce specific effects c (1) : a signal or character (as in a communication system or computer) representing data (2) : something (as a message, experimental data, or a picture) which
justifies change in a construct (as a plan or theory) that represents
physical or mental experience or another construct d : a quantitative measure of the content of information; specifically : a numerical quantity that measures the uncertainty in the outcome of an experiment to be performed
3 : the act of informing against a person
4 : a formal accusation of a crime made by a prosecuting officer as distinguished from an indictment presented by a grand jury

I say we can throw out 3 and 4 -- also 2b, 2c-1 (we do that, but it's too basic to be um... informative), and 2d (too technical -- information theory, entropy, etc.)

Given that, what we do for a living is captured well in definition #1... We communicate knowledge. Still not creating anything, because the knowledge can be spoon-fed to us, and we merely transfer it to a nicer spoon.

Definition #2a looks better... By that definition it's not obvious that we *create* information so much as *obtain* it. Or at least, we obtain the knowledge which we then communicate according to #1. Still, this looks like what we do for a living. We obtain knowledge about a subject, and then communicate that knowledge.

I'd say, to the degree that we *create* the given communication, we create information. Sure, we receive information from SMEs as we obtain our knowledge. But we also organize and edit that information as we create a product targeted at a specific audience. Still, there's room to argue this assertion.


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