New functionality: Concept mentions

Author’s picture Nick Nicholas on 06 Jul 2021


Metanorma provides a “What You See Is What You Mean” approach to authoring standards. That means not just encoding content with an emphasis on meaning over appearance: it means making the semantics of the content explicit and machine-readable, so that standards documents can serve as the basis for deriving meaning downstream.

One of the most straightforward instances of meaning represented in standards documents is the definitions of concepts, which can be appealed to by other sources—including other standards documents.

Metanorma already provides an explicit mechanism to encode concept definitions in its encoding of terms, and that will be enhanced in the months ahead through the related glossarist project.

On the other hand, Metanorma also provides for tracking instances where defined concepts are mentioned in a document, called “concept mentions”.

The semantic linking of term instances to their defined concepts allows us to capture the actual meaning of the usage of a term, tying them explicitly back to the definition of the concept.

Mechanism and syntax

A concept can be referenced from various locations, whether it is defined:

  • within the same document;

  • in an external document; or

  • in a termbase like the IEC Electropedia.

That means that the semantic encoding of the document is enriched, and that enrichment can be exploited downstream, e.g. in the presentation of document meaning.

The syntax for concept mentions is documented in Referencing concepts, and has recently been overhauled.

The syntax for concept mentions is flexible, and can be as extensive as:


But for internal document citations, {{term}} and {{term,rendering}} will normally be sufficient.

Referencing by term defined within document

To cite a concept defined within a document the following syntax can be used.

// The term is defined within the current document as a concept.

// If the desired display text differs from the concept term.
{{thermodynamics,the field of thermodynamics}}

// If a specific version of the cross-reference text is required.
{{thermodynamics,the field of thermodynamics,click here}}

Referencing by anchor defined within document

In certain cases it is more appropriate to reference a concept (defined in the current document) by anchor, instead of by term, e.g.:

  • the defined term is not plain text, e.g., a math formula;

  • the defined term is long in length.

// The concept is from the current document, but a manual anchor has been
// created for referencing it as a shorthand, useful in the case where a
// concept term is not in plain text (e.g. MathML).

// Different rendered text
{{<<emc2>>,ee equals em cee squared}}

Referencing concepts from external documents

To refer to concepts from an external document requires a corresponding bibliographic anchor for that document. The identifier for the concept is then given in the same fashion as any citation of an external document.

// Assuming that the bibliographic reference anchor to ISO8601-1
// already exists.

// Different rendered text
{{<<ISO8601-1>>,date,important date}}

Referencing concepts from external termbases

To refer to a concept from an external termbase, the termbase identifier and the concept identifier within that termbase are needed.

Only the IEC Electropedia is supported right now, whose termbase identifier is IEV.

References to termbase concepts do not require explicit anchors.

// The `IEV` reference can be used without explicit definition.

// Different rendered text
{{<<IEV:103-10-10>>,wavelength,the wavelength lambda symbol}}
Link to the actual IEV 103-10-10.

Migration from “Smart term references” functionality

For those who are familiar with the Metanorma ISO flavor, you may notice the similarities with “smart terms referencing” — the “concepts mention” functionality is a generalization of that.

The term:[term] and term:[term,rendering] commands, which were created to encode canonical mentions of terms in ISO documents (e.g. “_term_ (3.1)”), have been aligned to the concept mention encoding of Metanorma, so that will now be treated in Metanorma as semantically enriched elements, and not just rendering shortcuts.

The commands term:[term] and term:[term,rendering] are now synonyms of {{term}} and {{term,rendering}}; for that reason, the arguments of term:[term,rendering] have been reversed for this update, to align them to the {{…​}} syntax.

For those using the term:[rendering,term] command after upgrading to metanorma-cli version 1.4.10, you will need to swap the order of the arguments into term:[term,rendering] or {{term,rendering}}.