As specified by Cooper, Heron & Heward, (2007) pp. 66-67.
A topography-based definition identifies instances of the target behavior by the shape or form of the behavior. Topography-based definitions should be used when the behavior analyst a) does not have direct, reliable, or easy access to the functional outcome of the target behavior, and/or b) cannot rely on the function of the behavior because each instance of the target behavior does not produce the relevant outcome in the natural environment or the outcome might be produced by other events. For example, Silvestri (2004) defined and measured two classes of positive teacher statements according to the words that made up the statements, not according to whether the comments produced specific outcomes (see Figure 3.7).
Topography-based definitions can also be used for target behaviors for which relevant outcome is sometimes produced in the natural environment by undesirable variations of the response class. For example, because a duffer’s very poor swing of a golf club sometimes produces a good outcome, it is better to define a correct swing by the position and movement of the golf club and the golfer’s feet, hips, head and hands.
A topography-based definition should encompass all response forms that would typically produce the relevant outcome in the natural environment. Although topography provides an important element for defining target behaviors, the applied behavior analyst must be careful not to select targets behaviors solely on the basis of topography