The part-of or part-whole construct is a fundamental element of many conceptual modeling grammars that is used to associate one thing (a component) with another thing (a composite). Substantive theoretical issues surrounding the part-whole construct remain to be resolved, however. For instance, contrary to widespread claims, the relationship between components and composites is not always transitive. Moreover, how the part- whole construct should be represented in a conceptual schema diagram remains a contentious issue. Some analysts argue composites should be represented as a relationship or association. Others argue they should be represented as an entity. In this paper we use an ontological theory to support our arguments that compo- sites should be represented as entities and not relationships or associations. We also describe an experiment that we undertook to test whether representing composites as relationships or entities enables users to under- stand a domain better. Our results support our arguments that using entities to represent composites enables users to better understand a domain.
Shanks, Graeme; Tansley, Elizabeth; Nuredini, Jasmina; Tobin, Daniel; and Weber, Ron, "Representing Part-Whole Relationships in Conceptual Modeling: An Empirical Evaluation" (2002). ICIS 2002 Proceedings. 9.