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Re: [ddlm-group] A dictionary-writing workshop in Hyderabad?

I think a CIF dictionary writing workshop is a good idea but I would like to draw attention to one lesson that I have learned from helping people create dictionaries in their own field. The most important part of dictionary writing is understanding the connections between the concept of the field. Learning the techniques of CIF is secondary. Most of us have a scientific vocabulary which works well for what we do in our field, but few of us have thought deeply about how these concepts are defined or how they are related to each other. Those who write dictionaries certainly come away with a good knowledge of CIF and how it works, but they express surprise at how much they have learned about their own discipline. While this aspect of dictionary writing should not be the main focus of the workshop, it should not be ignored. A good place to emphasize this is in the first lecture. The discipline that CIF imposes obviously encourages this deep exploration of the scientific subject of the dictionary, and the instructors should encourage the participants to think deeply about the relationship between the concepts they wish to capture in the CIF. A good CIF dictionary (and do we allow any other?) is a well thought out dictionary of a specialized field, not merely a guide to writing a CIF.

James, I have been reading your emails with interest and am glad to see that CIF is now in such capable hands.


I. David Brown
Professor Emeritus
Department of Physics and Astronomy
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

From: ddlm-group [ddlm-group-bounces@iucr.org] on behalf of James Hester [jamesrhester@gmail.com]
Sent: November 2, 2016 22:29
To: ddlm-group
Subject: [ddlm-group] A dictionary-writing workshop in Hyderabad?

Dear DDLm group,

From time to time I get enquiries on creating CIF dictionaries for various disciplines (pressure, reflectometry, electron diffraction are the most recent).  It occurs to me that there might be sufficient interest in the general and technical aspects of CIF dictionaries that a one-day workshop at Hyderabad would be worthwhile.  At the conclusion of the workshop, participants should be able to produce a syntactically-correct (DDLm) dictionary with consistent and correct semantics, and the attendees would be invited to come prepared with a list of concepts that they would like to put into a dictionary.  In a broader sense, the workshop would kick-start new dictionary efforts and may interact nicely with those commissions that are being pushed to produce some metadata for their fields by the DDDWG/IUCr executive.  In an ideal world, the content of dictionaries begun at the workshop could be finalised in consultation with colleagues on the spot during the IUCr conference, whether at commission meetings or in ad-hoc discussions, and some of us could make ourselves available for immediate consultation throughout the meeting.

Suggested topics:
(1) Introduction: dictionary layout, role the dictionary plays, what is a category?
(2) First steps: collecting and classifying concepts (single-valued, multi-valued, assigned, measured, derived,...)
(3) Sorting concepts into categories
(4) Writing the human-readable definitions
(5) Assigning datanames
(6) Assigning attributes; overview of available attributes
(7) Describing interaction with other CIF dictionaries (import)
(8) How expansion works (the _audit.schema system)
(9) Adding to existing dictionaries

I would not propose covering dREL in detail due to time constraints. Note also that much of the material is not CIF specific, but whether we want to sell it that way I'm not sure.  There would be plenty of "practical" sessions where participants actually worked on their own dictionary - we might choose a useful mini-topic as an example for those who haven't come with any particular field in mind.

It would also be useful to have some DDLm dictionary-writing tools (checkers/GUIs) available, if anybody has something they could polish up in time.

What does the rest of the group think of this idea?  While I'm happy to take a lead role in putting it together, we would need some volunteers to help prepare materials, present, and wander around the room helping.

all the best,
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