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Letters to the Editor
A Norm By Any Other Name

I read J.C. Taylor’s letter [June issue] expressing disdain about the term “normative reference” and I sympathize with him. I, too, have difficulty with the need of some standards writers to turn easy-to-understand English into cryptic jargon. Read any ASTM standard, and immediately following “Scope” is a list of the other standards that are referred to in that standard. The purpose of the list is so that users of the standard can quickly determine which other standards they will need in order to use the first standard. The header for that list is “Referenced Documents.” Translate “Referenced Documents” that are mandatory into French and you get “Référence Normatif.” Let those at ISO [the International Organization for Standardization] who establish its standard format translate that back into English (keeping in mind that ISO is in Geneva where the local language is French) and you get “Normative Reference.” As a result, those writing ISO standards in English are stuck with this ugly, cryptic phrase.

The ISO definition of “normative” provided by the editor says that “normative references” are mandatory. Similarly, ASTM says at the beginning of the “Referenced Documents” list that “the following list of standards apply to this specification.” In both ISO and ASTM standards, the body of the specification gives the extent to which a referenced document (or a “Normative Reference) applies.

Thank goodness that ASTM still wisely uses easy-to-understand “Referenced Documents” and explains what they are about in simple English. ISO has recently embarked on a campaign to increase the “global relevance” of their standards. A good place to start would be to emulate ASTM’s practice of writing in plain, easy-to-understand English – the kind that those who use their standards can follow.

Walter J. Sperko, P.E.
Sperko Engineering Services Inc.
Chairman, American Welding Society International Standards
Activities Committee

I don’t like “normative,” even though it is in the dictionary (Webster Second College Edition). It has a root in “normal” which means average or typical. I prefer “mandatory” and “required.” Better yet do not say these words. Everything in a document called a standard should be considered required or mandatory or binding except those parts explicitly excepted, as for an appendix where it is stated at the front of the appendix that it is not part of the standard. Likewise an annex is part of a standard unless explicitly stated at the front of the annex that it is not part of the standard.

Robert H. Bushnell, Ph.D., P.E.
Boulder, Colo.
Member, ASTM Committees E43 on SI Practice and E44 on Solar, Geothermal, and Other Alternative Energy Sources

The Mentoring Experience

I found the editorial in the August SN to be very thought-provoking. I share your experience of receiving guidance from many people whom I did not consider to be my mentors, but they provided nuggets of wisdom that influenced my career and/or my life. Perhaps it’s an incarnation of the “random acts of kindness.” We never know the effect we have on others. Thanks for reminding us.

Wayne Holliday
President, American Society for Nondestructive Testing
ASTM Chairman of the Board

Copyright 2003, ASTM