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Letters to the Editor
Student Membership

The concept of ASTM student membership [Plain Talk for a New Generation, March SN] is about the best idea this centenarian organization has ever had. I would have been a lot more prepared for the real world when graduating from college in 1967 had such an opportunity existed at the time, and I suspect the level of naivete hasn’t declined much in the last 36 years. I hope this spreads to every campus offering any sort of engineering or science program. It wouldn’t hurt the liberal arts schools either. In fact, if it isn’t already in the plan, this should be pushed at trade schools, community colleges, nursing schools, etc.

William D. (Dave) Hollander
Attica, Ind.


Once again in the space of two days I meet this strange word “normative” [“The Truth About Normative Referencing,” April SN]. At a meeting two days ago at the Institute of Petroleum, we were discussing this word, which had arisen from an ISO [International Organization for Standardization] draft, and I pointed out that it was not in any of the three dictionaries I had consulted; it then emerged that not one member of the committee could actually define a meaning for it.

These are people actually concerned with the writing of standards; if we do not know what it means, and we made several suggestions, all different, then what chance do the people for whom we write these have of a clear understanding? There was a “sort of” guess that it might mean “mandatory,” but then we agreed that a “mandatory reference” was a nonsense, so that could not be the intention.

Why do some people use non-English words in a way which is meaningless to an English-speaking user? Can we not bear in mind at all times that a standard is for use by people who are not members of the standard-writing community, and it behooves us to bear this in mind when we write standards even for ISO.

This topic seems to resonate with May’s editorial on the need for clarity in all aspects of standards. Let us stamp down very firmly on the usage of words we do not all understand clearly. Todd Sandler’s article seems to me to make no clearer just how a “normative reference” differs from the ASTM word “reference.” And what “normatively referenced” means I cannot fathom.

J.C. Taylor
Lancashire, U.K.

Dear Mr. Taylor,

It may be my bias as an editor, but I have a feeling your concern is primarily grammatical. I did find “normative” in Merriam-Webster, and it is defined as:

1: of, relating to, or determining norms or standards (normative tests)
2: conforming to or based on norms (normative behavior) (normative judgments)
3: prescribing norms (normative rules of ethics) (normative grammar)

So to me, it would seem a “normative reference” would be a reference that is not just any publication, but a norm or standard.

For the record, though, my friends at ISO also provide this helpful definition:

“The use of the word ‘normative’ is defined in subclause 2.1 of the 1986 edition of the ISO/IEC Directives as ‘those elements setting out the provisions with which it is necessary to comply in order to be able to claim conformity with the standard.’”

I hope this helps!


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