Traditional classifications of animals, medicine, diseases, and other vastly dense topics can feel like reciting pi – infinite data with infinite possibilities.

While there may be limits in a particular software, like SharePoint, to how many terms and levels can be in a taxonomy, the reality is there are subjects that are quite possibly endless.

Snow scientist Charles Knight at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado estimates that there are 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 water molecules in a typical snow crystal. “The way they can arrange themselves is almost infinite,” Gosnell said.”So, you know, nobody can say for absolute certain. But I think experts are in agreement the likelihood of two being identical is next to impossible.”

When it comes to terms within a taxonomy however, some guidelines will help you end up with effective searches to enable actual retrieval, a rich and functional network of relationships among terms and a standards-compliant thesaurus and taxonomy.

Enterprises collect enormous quantities of information that can significantly improve all aspects of a business, from forecasting and decision making to sales and customer service. These benefits can be realized, but only if people are able to find and make sense of the right information when it is needed.

Both customers and employees can better access and use needed information when it is organized into categories and subcategories within a taxonomy. A taxonomy can also improve search results by showing the levels immediately above, below, and adjacent to the search term in the hierarchy, providing both a meaningful context and ideas for further exploration.

There are many approaches to the building of a thesaurus or taxonomy. No absolutely right or absolutely wrong methods exist, but there are some that are not as efficient as others. Some that lead to bias in the resulting work. There are some very expensive approaches and some very practical approaches to doing the work.

But where do you start?

The thing you can do best to ensure a final product that will provide the findability you seek is to use subject matter experts (SMEs). They need to be used in creation of a good taxonomy. Without their knowledge you will miss the important detailed knowledge of the users.

Use the SMEs carefully. When you have several experts you will need to balance their comments and find commonality in their term use. This is very helpful in disambiguation of the finer points of the taxonomy terms. Get them to agree and then use the results. Balance the expertise they bring with your own expertise as a taxonomist. You will teach them how these things work, they will teach you what the terms mean and how they are used. They will become the taxonomy advocates. Working together the results will be excellent and broadly applicable.

Making information findable is something Access Innovations knows all about. Access Innovations is one of a small number of companies that can provide your organization with a well-constructed thesaurus.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in taxonomies, metadata, and semantic enrichment to make your content findable.