When we talk, we speak in natural language. This language may be raw, rich, and sometimes messy, but it is real. When we organize our information and label it, however, there is so much richness, variance, and confusion in terminology that we often need to impose some order to facilitate agreement between the concepts within the site and the vocabulary of the person using it.

This order can come through a controlled vocabulary

A controlled vocabulary is an organized arrangement of words and phrases used to index and/or to retrieve content through browsing or searching. It typically includes preferred and variant terms and has a defined scope or describes a specific domain.

Controlled vocabularies such as those in a taxonomy, thesaurus, or ontology, are the main terminological resources that play key roles in developing the information architecture for online portals and search platforms.

Sometimes referred to interchangeably, taxonomies and controlled vocabularies are controlled lists of terms used to organize information. A controlled vocabulary can be used by any field that collects and uses information, such as academic research, libraries, corporations, governmental organizations, etc. Common types of controlled vocabularies include term lists, authority files and thesauri.

Because controlled vocabularies require the use of predefined terms, they can be challenging to adopt and apply, but using controlled vocabularies during data or metadata creation supports consistency and accuracy. There are well-established vocabularies for personal and corporate names, geographic names, topics, concepts, resource types, genres and languages.

Taxonomies provide the hierarchical categorization and classification of content into subject categories and also help to categorize and classify products and brands represented in online directories and product catalogs.

A controlled vocabulary is a way to insert an interpretive layer of semantics between the term entered by the user and the underlying database to better represent the original intention of the terms of the user. The most effective communication occurs when all parties involved agree on the meaning of the terms being used. Consequently, finding the right words to communicate the message of your website can be one of the most difficult parts of developing it.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in thesaurus, ontology, and taxonomy creation and metadata application.