Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

In general an attribute is a variable that can take only certain fixed values: sometimes known as a discrete variable.

explanatory context

In some cases where the categories cannot be ordered (e.g., race, religious affiliation) the variables are measured at a nominal level. In other cases where the categories can be ordered (e.g., social class) the variables are measured at the ordinal level. In this latter case they are sometimes known as ordered attributes. Where an attribute can take only two values (e.g., male or female) it is sometimes known as a dichotomous variable.


In information technology an attribute is the name given to a facet (or variable) of an entity. When represented in a database an attribute is represented by columns (sometimes referred to as domains) while the entity is represented by rows (called tuples), where each row is an occurrence of the entity.


A group of related attributes (such as day, month and year of birth) together form a data element in the database, each separate attribute or item of information is a data item represented by a single field or cell in a database. Each cell contains a data item value.

analytical review

Tate Gallery (undated) referring to art:

Attribute has different meanings as a noun and a verb: An attribute (noun) in art is an object or animal associated with a particular personage; to attribute (verb) a work of art is to suggest it may be by a particular artist.

The most common attributes (objects/animals associated with personages) are those of the ancient Greek gods. For example doves, birds associated with love, are attributes of the goddess of love, Aphrodite or Venus. So a female nude with a dove or doves may be identified as Venus. The ancient musical instrument known as a lyre is an attribute of Apollo, god of music and the arts. A bow and arrows and/or a spear, together with hounds, are attributes of the goddess Diana, who was famous as a huntress. She was also goddess of the moon, so often has a crescent in her hair.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Tate Gallery, nd, 'Attribute', available at, accessed 21 November 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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