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RE: A note about the definition of "structure"

From: John M Slatin <john_slatin@austin.utexas.edu>
Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2005 14:11:24 -0600
Message-ID: <6EED8F7006A883459D4818686BCE3B3B7519A5@MAIL01.austin.utexas.edu>
To: <michele@diodati.org>, <w3c-wai-gl@w3.org>

Michele Diodati quoted part of my message that contained a definition of structure:rt of the definition was as follows:
> 
> "Structure: Structure includes all the parts of a Web resource and the 
> way they are organized."
And then commented:
<blockquote>
This definition avoids the circularity of using the word "structure", but has in my opinion some other defects.

First of all, it keeps up using the word "includes", inadequate for a comprehensive definition. For example, a car includes at least four wheels, but surely many other features. So, we can't define a car saying "a car includes four wheels". In like manner, as I said in a previous post, we need to define what "structure" is, not what it includes (it could include many things).
</blockquote>
I don't have the same concern about using the word "includes," but I agree that it's not the standard format for a dictionary definition. More on this point below.
Michele again:
<blockquote>
Secondly, saying that structure "includes all the parts of a Web resource", you seem to arbitrarily extend the scope of the notion of "structure" to encompass the notion of "content". In fact after your definition of "structure" there is the following clarification: "The parts of a Web resource may include text, graphics, mathematical equations, multimedia, etc. Some parts may contain other parts or create relationships between two or more parts."
</blockquote>

You're correct: I do intend the term "structure" to encompass "content."  But this is not an arbitrary extension of the concept. It is consistent with the definitions listed below, from Merria-Webster's 10th Collegiate Dictionary:
<blockquote cite="http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=structure">
1 : the action of building :
CONSTRUCTION
2 a : something (as a building) that is constructed b : something arranged in a definite pattern of organization <a rigid totalitarian structure -- J. L.
Hess> <leaves and other plant structures>
3 : manner of construction :
MAKEUP
<Gothic in structure>
4 a : the arrangement of particles or parts in a substance or body <soil structure> <molecular structure> b : organization of parts as dominated by the
general character of the whole <economic structure> <personality structure>
5 : the aggregate of elements of an entity in their relationships to each other
</blockquote>
I think it is a mistake. "Structure" is only the way contents are organized, and it 
Definitions 4a, 4b, and 5 all explicitly include "content" as part of the definition of what structure is.  It's arguable that definition 2 does so as well.

Here is another set of definitions, this time from the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:
<blockquote cite="http://www.bartleby.com/61/90/S0819000.html">
1. Something made up of a number of parts that are held or put together in a particular way: hierarchical social structure. 2. The way in which parts are
arranged or put together to form a whole; makeup: triangular in structure. 3. The interrelation or arrangement of parts in a complex entity: political
structure; plot structure. 4. Something constructed, such as a building. 5. Biology a. The arrangement or formation of the tissues, organs, or other parts
of an organism. b. An organ or other part of an organism.
</blockquote>
These definitions are similar to those found in Merriam-Webster, and also include "content" as well as organization.

Finally, WordNet also offers five senses of the word "structure":
<blockquote cite="http://www.cogsci.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/webwn2.0?stage=1&word=structure">
* 1. (24) structure, construction -- (a thing constructed; a complex construction or entity; ``the structure consisted of a series of arches"; "she wore
her hair in an amazing construction of whirls and ribbons'' )
* 2. (17) structure -- (the manner of construction of something and the arrangement of its parts; ``artists must study the structure of the human body";
"the structure of the benzene molecule'' )
* 3. (7) structure -- (the complex composition of knowledge as elements and their combinations; ``his lectures have no structure'' )
* 4. (3) structure, anatomical structure, complex body part, bodily structure, body structure -- (a particular complex anatomical structure; ``he has good
bone structure'' )
* 5. social organization, social organisation, social structure, social system, structure -- (the people in a society considered as a system organized by
a characteristic pattern of relationships; ``the social organization of England and America is very different"; "sociologists have studied the changing
structure of the family'' )
</blockquote>

Again, these definitions encompass "content" as within "structure."

In my view, these three dictionaries appear to be in substantial agreement about what the term "structure" includes (pardon my use of the word includes"!), and so the WCAG 2.0 glossary must define "structure" in a manner that is consistent with these.

I hope the proposed definition succeeds while using plainer language than the dictionaries.  Here's a version that does not use the word "includes":

<dl>
<dt>structure</dt>
<dd>all the parts of a Web resource and the way they are organized</dd>
</dl>

For me, the critical difficulty with this definition is that it seems too narrowly focused on a single "resource" such as a "delivery unit," when I think it will probably have to be capable of handling collections of delivery units (e.g., entire sites as well as single pages within those sites).

John
does not include the contents. For example, I can organize the letters "d", "g", "o", combining them in a meaningful
word: "dog". According to me, "structure" is in this case only the organization I put into the three letters, but not the three letters. They are data, contents. On the contrary, reading your definition of "structure", I understand that also the contents are parts of the structure.

Let us consider this short sentence: "I believe in you." If I put emphasis on the word "you", what is structure? The word "you" or the relationship of emphasis between this word and the rest of the sentence? I think the latter one. So, in the corresponding code of a web page  (<p>I believe in <em>you</em>.</p>), "you" is content and "<em>...</em>" is the marker of its structural value.

Ciao,
Michele
--
http://www.diodati.org
Received on Monday, 17 January 2005 20:11:27 GMT

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