Characteristic: A characteristic describes a fact (a characteristic is a property of a fact). A characteristic or distinguishing aspect provides information necessary to describe a fact or distinguish one fact from another fact. A fact may have one or many distinguishing characteristics.

Characteristics can be grouped. The following is a summary of helpful characteristic groups:
  • Temporal or time context characteristic: The value of the characteristic is fundamentally a measure of time.
  • Semantic categorization characteristic: Changes to this type of characteristic fundamentally changes the meaning of a fact and the sum of members of this characteristic has no meaning.
  • Economic entity context association characteristic: Relates to breaking a whole into its pieces. This category specifically relates to the economic entity providing the financial information. When the members of this type of characteristic is summed, the sum does have meaning.
  • Other context association characteristic: Relates to breaking a whole into its pieces. All other characteristics not about the economic entity.


A characteristic provides information necessary to describe a fact, and in doing so, can distinguish that fact from other facts. A fact may have any number of characteristics. All facts have some characteristics. Characteristics are identified with two pieces of information, the name of the characteristic (e.g. the 'reporting entity') and the characteristic value (e.g. 'IBM').


In both the real world of financial reporting and in the modeling of those reports using a representation language such as XBRL, there are two distinct levels of the description of facts. In the definition of characteristic above, what does "describe" mean:
  • Sufficiently describe: Sufficient characteristics to fully and unambiguously differentiate a fact from all other facts in a given specific perspective.
  • Fully describe: Sufficient characteristics to fully define a fact for a given consumption purpose.

In the real world, where a fact is sufficiently described, the task of determining the full description of a fact may be left to the reader, who must leverage his/her accounting and/or analysis skills to infer the complete meaning. When the model of a report includes fully described facts, this burden is effectively shifted to the creator of the report.

The term characteristic is too broad. The notion of a characteristic should be further broken down into distinct types of characteristics into which all characteristics must fall (i.e. we need to put each [Axis] into one of these categories)

  • Characteristic (all of these are candidate categories for sub-characteristics or classes of characteristics)
    • Association related characteristic:A characteristic which is simply intended to provide a common association among multiple facts based on some general circumstantial relationship.
      • Situation, condition, or other circumstance characteristic:General characteristic which fits into no other specific characteristic type
      • Event related characteristic: Characteristics which relate to an event; Group reported fact for an event; for example, a board meeting where the dividends are declared
      • Transaction category related characteristic: Characteristics which relate to one or more transactions which have impacted a reporting entity.
      • Financial account componentization characteristic: Characteristics that break down some aggregated characteristic into its component parts; for example a characteristic which details the components of property, plant, and equipment.
      • Instrument componentization related characteristic: Similar to a financial account component in that it details a financial account, but in this case by instrument. (Debt instrument, financial instrument, etc.)
      • Reporting entity componentization characteristic:Characteristic that breaks down some aspect of a reporting entity into its component parts. (reporting entity, legal entity, parent holding company, consolidated entity, subsidiary, business segment, geographic area, asset group, reporting unit, business, operating segment, reportable segment)
    • Definitional (Semantic) characteristic: A Characteristic that is integral to or changes the meaning of a reported fact.

[The following characteristic categories may be specializations of one of the above categories. Their frequent occurrences warrant specific identification.]
    • Reporting scenario related characteristics: Characteristics which detail a reporting scenario.
    • Period or increment related characteristic: Characterizes a reported fact by some period such as calendar period, fiscal period, report date; or some other increment such as range.
    • Presentation related characteristic: Characteristics which are 100% presentation related and have no financial reporting related meaning what-so-ever. These characteristics only have use related to navigating a particular visual rendering of a report.