Description: Its meaning, epistemology, and use with emphasis on information science

Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology 74 (13):1532-1549 (2023)
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This study examines the concept of “description” and its theoretical foundations. The literature about it is surprisingly limited, and its usage is vague, sometimes even conflicting. Description should be considered in relation to other processes, such as representation, data capturing, and categorizing, which raises the question about what it means to describe something. Description is often used for any type of predication but may better be limited to predications based on observations. Research aims to establish criteria for making optimal descriptions; however, the problems involved in describing something have seldom been addressed. Specific ideals are often followed without examine their fruitfulness. This study provides evidence that description cannot be a neutral, objective activity; rather, it is a theory-laden and interest-based activity. In information science, description occurs in processes such as document description, descriptive metadata assignment, and information resource description. In this field, description has equally been used in conflicting ways that mostly do not evince a recognition of the value- and theory-laden nature of descriptions. It is argued that descriptive activities in information science should always be based on consciously explicit considerations of the goals that descriptions are meant to serve

Author's Profile

Birger Hjørland
University of Copenhagen


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