7 Super Simple Examples to Understand Operational Definition

Examples to Understand Operational Definition
In very simple terms, an operational definition is used to define the nature of variables in a study or experiment which are relevant within the context of the study. Not very clear? A few examples along with a simplified explanation by EduZenith would surely help you understand the concept better.
EduZenith Staff
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Defining Operational Definition
"An operational definition is a procedure agreed upon for translation of a concept into measurement of some kind."
― W. Edwards Deming
When conducting an experiment or a research, one necessarily needs to look for a problem or a question upon which the entire study would be based. Once the researcher has thoroughly studied the problem, he/she narrows it down to a measurable hypothesis. Testing the hypothesis is the only means to reach a logical and meaningful conclusion.

However, a hypothesis, unless tested, doesn't stand as a definition on its own. Variables in the study and in the hypothesis are used or measured in context of the experiment or study, thus the need to be operationally defined. To simplify further, we can say that the measure or nature of a variable which is operational or functional in the experiment needs to be clearly defined. When a hypothesis is proved to work, it becomes a theoretical definition (backed by a valid theory).

Therefore, it can be concluded that operational definitions are a stepping stone to theoretical definitions. The concept of operational definitions can be properly understood with the help of some examples cited below. Check them out!
Operational Definition Explained With Examples
► Operational definitions are used in research and experiments conducted across several physical, social, and medical sciences. The concept of operationalization is mostly introduced when a certain term or phenomenon isn't tangible or directly measurable, especially in fields like psychology, sociology, and other social sciences.
Logical Thinking
► For instance, the concept of intelligence with reference to a study or experiment can be defined as obtaining a certain score in an intelligence inventory; it can also be defined as a person's capability to think logically in order to solve a problem. The definition solely depends on the nature of the study, and varies in the degree of operationalization.
► When we say operationalization varies in degree, it means that operational definitions don't simply state the absence or presence of a certain aspect. In fact, they are expected to be as precise and specific as possible. For example: 'Sarah likes Paul' is a statement that leaves scope for a lot of contradictions. The statement can be interpreted or misinterpreted in several ways like, Sarah likes talking to Paul, or simply likes the way he dresses, or wishes to date Paul, or whatever.

► However, if an experiment defines liking as the quality to flirt, then Sarah flirts with Paul. What is the definition of flirt then? This is exactly where a definition varies in degree. If the experiment were to further define that flirt is the activity of talking in a naughty way; then the operational definition would become even more precise and clear, and would sound like this - Sarah talks to Paul in a naughty way.
► Precision in an operational definition makes an experiment, study, or research more valid and logical. Let's consider another example; assume that Newton has just begun hypothesizing the laws of motion. He crudely states the first unproved law: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it. Here, Newton will have to operationally define motion and force. Once he has defined these terms, he can test the hypothesis by using these variables in the way he has defined them and obtain a valid conclusion.
Selecting Food
► Even though operational definitions are linked more to research and experiments, they are also vital in day-to-day business. For example: when a person goes to Burger King, he doesn't simply go and ask for a burger. He specifies what sort of burger he wants, like a beef burger with veggies and cheese, or maybe a steak burger. Here, the person to a certain degree is operationally defining a burger. Burger to that person at that point of time can mean a specific type of burger (as per his taste and mood).
► When a doctor says that a patient has high fever, he means that the body temperature of the patient was checked using a thermometer, and the resulting temperature was higher than the regular body temperature of a normal human (98.6 °F).
Operationally defining variables of study either before or after formulating a hypothesis, is one of the most rudimentary steps in scientific research.