From a book on GMP I've come across:

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In-process controls may be performed in regular intervals during a process step (e.g. tabletting, encapsulation) or at the end of a process step (e.g. granulation, blending).

Is this use of the verb "performed" in relation to "controls" natural, or would it seem a bit odd to a native speaker of English?

Can one "perform" controls? The matter is, some time ago I read the following in a book dedicated to misuse of English words:

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... Used as a noun, we do not 'carry out' or 'perform' controls. ...

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    An Ngram check indicates that controls may be performed has overtaken controls may be instituted in popularity over the past 50 years. So, yes! But at regular intervals rather than in regular intervals. (books.google.com/ngrams) – Ronald Sole Apr 10 '17 at 23:07
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    It is OK, given that "in-process controls" are activities that can be performed. If not, you should explain further. – user3169 Apr 11 '17 at 1:20
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    Yes this is fine. It's referring to the act of setting up, and implementing the control, documenting findings, etc... activities which can be 'performed' by a competent person / machine etc... – Gary Apr 11 '17 at 4:30
  • You have a good ear, CowperKettle. Controls are applied. books.google.com/ngrams/… – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 11 '17 at 11:17
  • The car is going too fast. Perform the brakes! – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 11 '17 at 11:22


As @TRomano already linked before denying his own research, plenty of people use the expression 'perform control(s)'.

Neither of you is wrong that the expression seems odd. The most common sense of control as a noun is the interface used to direct the actions of some device. The original sense was as a synonym for restraint or for a means of restraint. Perform doesn't work for any of those: apply is what happens to restraint and use is more common than either of them.

That said, the phrase in question shows up at ngram because other definitions of control exist. Its scientific sense as an experiment performed without a certain variable or factor is imminently performable. Its general sense as direction, management, or administration and its senses as a clipped form of control group, animal, &c. both suggest roles which can be performed.

More importantly, the original quote is not about 'controls' generally but about 'in-process controls' (IPC). That bit of jargon is defined as "checks that are carried out before the manufacturing process is completed". These are not applied restraints but inspections and procedures which should be performed during the manufacturing process to ensure quality control.

The discussion of 'control' and its definitions, apart from being largely mistaken, is aside the point. IPCs are procedures which must be performed and there's nothing ungrammatical about it.

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I'll venture an answer in the face of strong opposition :)

My angle is descriptivist, not prescriptivist.

We apply controls. We don't perform them.

When we apply controls to a process, we make observations, take measurements, and perform tests at various stages.

When we control a process, we observe, measure, and test at various stages.

Now, let's try to rephrase the first sentence with perform instead of apply.

When we perform controls on a process, ...

To my ear, "perform controls on a process" is unidiomatic. I'm confident that this is not just my idiosyncratic view, and that it would be borne out by a survey of written works from the last 75 years, though there might be a slight uptick in recent years for "perform controls". We can readily see how a writer could use performs if she understands controls to refer to the specific activities normally involved in the given domain's set of controls (observations, measurements, specific tests) and not the more abstract idea of "a restraint to keep something from going awry". We could even expect to see someone use the verb run who understands controls to mean "control experiments":

We have to run our controls...

Using words in general use in idiosyncratic ways is typical of technical writing.

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    I think "apply" is a good general choice. I've been convinced and you get +1 :) I disagree that for this context "perform" is completely wrong. The medical testing aspect of it made me think of controls in the sense of control experiments, although it's not common usage. – ColleenV Apr 11 '17 at 12:21
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    I think @ColleenV hit on it. The only way "perform" really makes sense is if "control" is used in the sense of actions providing a standard reference. Otherwise, good answer. – fixer1234 Apr 13 '17 at 5:12

Control is a word that has slowly changed its meaning over time: as a verb, it originally meant to check, verify, regulate, and only started to mean direct in the mid-15th century. The original usage no longer appears in the Oxford or Cambridge dictionaries, but it does appear in Merriam-Webster (albeit marked as archaic), which suggests that our American cousins have slightly longer memories that we British.

in-process control is a specialised term relating to tests carried out as part of a quality control programme, which is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as

A system of maintaining standards in manufactured products by testing a sample of the output against the specification

and in Merriam-Webster as

an aggregate of activities (such as design analysis and inspection for defects) designed to ensure adequate quality especially in manufactured products

In both the British and American definitions, it is clear that quality control is seen as involving tests or inspections such as in-process controls. It is normal to say perform about a test, and so it is also normal to say perform about an in-process control.

Note that in-process control (and passport control) are terms that relates to an archaic meaning of the word control. For most usages of control, the more modern meaning is relevant and one would apply or exercise a control.

On a side note: Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) is a set of guidelines for use by the Pharmaceuticals Industry: it is published in the United States by the Food and Drugs Administration. The book that CowperKettle refers to is a publication written by the EU that defines correct usage of English in EU documents: it has no jurisdiction over documents published in the United States and, in this brave new Brexit world, probably no longer has any jurisdiction in Great Britain. One wonders about the future of the document itself: will the EU continue to use English after Britain leaves?

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To control X has several meanings and it usually means to be able to make X do things you want.

It also means to prevent X from doing something bad, unsafe, or out of bounds, usually with the preposition from. For example, you would control your dog from biting others at a park by using a leash.

Control can also be used to describe a process that is designed to do the above. A company may manually inspect manufactured products to ensure they fall within safety criteria, and this process of inspection may have several steps, checkpoints, etc. So the process to do this can be called a control, and processes are things that can be performed or executed. I'm sure a nuclear power plant, for example, has lots of controls that need to be performed/executed on a regular basis.

This may derive from the scientific use of control: "A control is something that is used as a standard of comparison for checking the results of an experiment." (From Google search on "scientific experiment - control").

Of course there is overlap in meaning, e.g. a control can mean a thing like a button or level that starts, stops, or changes a machine function or device in realtime.

This use of control would be expected in contexts describing manufacturing, plant, or factory processes, or possibly if one is talking about designing or developing a set of business processes to get work done.

Using control like this will sound "business-ey" or technical and would be unlikely to come up in conversation that isn't shop talk or business talk. So it won't sound natural unless you work with process development, or factory, plant, or manufacturing equipment

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