— Bella Hass Weinberg
“There is a singular lack of vocabulary control in the field of controlled vocabularies,” Bella Hass Weinberg, professor of library science at St. John’s University in New York, is fond of saying.
To help you cut through the maze of verbiage often found in this field, we have created a glossary of terms.
The glossary reflects our usage of terms in the articles of this series. But this glossary is more than just a list of terms. We wanted it to serve as an illustration of what a controlled vocabulary looks like (we are fond of killing multiple birds with multiple stones).
Accordingly, the glossary is itself a controlled vocabulary, more specifically a thesaurus. So you will find all of the standard features of any thesaurus: broader, narrower, and variant term indicators, as well as scope notes. In this case, however, the scope notes provide the definition of the particular glossary term being presented.
The following standard abbreviations are used in the glosso-thesaurus.
BT = Broader Term
NT = Narrower Term
RT = Related Term (“See also”)
SN = Scope Note
UF = Used For
USE = “See” (Refers reader from variant term to vocabulary term.)
- USE Variant Term
- SN The connection between related vocabulary terms. That is, related terms are connected through an associative relationship.
- SN A flat (non-hierarchical) list containing preferred terms. May include variant terms. Essentially, an authority file is a synonym ring with the preferred term identified for each concept.
- SN The superordinate word in an inclusion or hierarchical relationship. A class or category term. Abbreviated in displays as “BT.” The inversion of broader term is narrower term. For example, “shoe” is a broader term than “running shoe.” Broader terms are sometimes referred to as “parent” terms.
- SN An exercise that can be used to help create a controlled vocabulary. In a card sort, users are asked to group cards into like categories or to name categories of like items. Card sorting can be used to compile lists of variant terms or to verify the relationships in a hierarchy. For additional information, see Card-Based Classification Evaluation by Donna Maurer or the IAWiki page on card sorting.
- USE Narrower Term
- SN A subset of natural language that is used to tag documents and then to find content through navigation or search. Use of a controlled vocabulary increases consistency in tagging and can help match users’ natural language with preferred terms. Abbreviated as “CV.”
Controlled vocabularies exhibit the following relationships:
- USE Variant Term
- SN The connection between terms in a synonym ring, or between preferred terms and variant terms. Terms that exhibit an equivalence relationship refer to the same concept. For example, “cat” and “feline” are often considered as being equivalent.
- SN The range of concept coverage of vocabulary terms in a controlled vocabulary. If the vocabulary terms cover all of the concepts included in the content under consideration, then the controlled vocabulary is exhaustive.
- SN A fundamental category by which an object or concept may be described. For example, a child’s ball may be described using the facets of size, weight, shape, color, texture, material and price.
- SN The process of analyzing content to determine appropriate facets and vocabulary term relationships, using “one characteristic of division at a time, to produce homogeneous, mutually-exclusive groups.” *
* Aitchison, Jean, Alan Gilchrist, and David Bawden (2002). Thesaurus Construction and Use: A Practical Manual. 4th ed. Chicago: Fitzroy-Dearborn, pg. 70.
- A method of vocabulary development in which users are asked to “name all the [x] you know.” Free listing can identify core terms in a controlled vocabulary, as well as variant terms. For additional information, see Beyond cardsorting: Free-listing methods to explore user categorizations by Rashmi Sinha.
- SN The level of specificity with which content is described. The more granular, the more specific.
- SN A collection of vocabulary terms that show levels of superordination and subordination. Hierarchies comprise broader terms and narrower terms. Hierarchies may be testing using card sorting.
- SN The connection between broader and narrower terms in a taxonomy or thesaurus.
- SN The inclusion of a vocabulary term in a controlled vocabulary based on its appearance in one or more content items. For example, a medical text may use the term “oncology.” Based on literary warrant, that term would be included in the controlled vocabulary even though the general public uses the term “cancer.”
- SN The subordinate word in an inclusion or hierarchical relationship. A member or part. Abbreviated in displays at “NT.” For example, “running shoe” is a narrower term than “shoe.” Narrower terms are sometimes referred to as “child” terms.The inversion of narrower term is broader term.
- SN Language as it is spoken; language in everyday use.
USE Variant Term
- USE Broader Term
- SN A hierarchy in which some vocabulary terms have more than one broader term. For example, “Rome” might be a narrower term under both “European capitals” and “Italian cities” in a geographic vocabulary.
- SN A ratio that measures the success of a search. Precision is defined mathematically as the number of relevant items returned by a search divided by the total number of items returned by the search. Thus, a search that returned only relevant items would have a precision of 1.0.
Precision usually has an inverse relationship to recall. That is, increasing the precision of a search usually decreases the recall. Precision can be increased by increasing the specificity of vocabulary terms. For more information, see:
- SN The vocabulary term in a controlled vocabulary used to tag content.
- SN A ratio that measures the success of a search. Recall is defined mathematically as the number of relevant items returned by a search divided by the total number of relevant items in the collection. Thus, a search that returned all the relevant items in a collection would have a recall of 1.0.
Recall can be increased by the use of synonym rings and variant terms. Recall usually has an inverse relationship to precision. That is, increasing the recall of a search usually decreases the precision. For more information, see:
- SN Vocabulary terms in a controlled vocabulary that are closely related. That is, they refer to closely related concepts. Abbreviated in displays as “RT.” Related terms may, for example, exhibit the following relationships:
field of study/objects studied
action/product of action
For additional information, see the section in associative relationships in What is A Controlled Vocabulary? by Karl Fast, Mike Steckel and Fred Leise.
UF “See Also” Term
RT Associative Relationship
- SN (1) A definition of a preferred term in a controlled vocabulary. (2) An indication of restrictions in meaning or other clarification needed for the proper use of the preferred term. Abbreviated in displays as “SN.” Examples of scope notes are provided throughout this glossary.
- USE Related Term
- SN The exactness with which a vocabulary term covers a concept. Thus, in considering the concept “dog,” the term “canine” is more specific than “animal.” Increasing specificity of vocabulary terms increases precision and granularity, but may decrease recall.
- SN One of the simplest of controlled vocabularies. Includes only a list of equivalent terms. When one of the terms is searched, the synonym ring returns results as if the complete set of terms was searched.
- SN A controlled vocabulary, the preferred terms of which are all connected in a hierarchy or polyhierarchy. Terms in a taxonomy may exhibit equivalence or hierarchical relationships.
- USE Vocabulary Term
- SN The type of association between vocabulary terms. Terms may be broader, narrower, related or variant, exhibiting hierarchical, associative or equivalence relationships.
- SN A controlled vocabulary that indicates preferred terms and variant terms. In addition to the equivalence relationship, vocabulary terms in a thesaurus exhibit both hierarchical and associative relationships. These three relationships are called “standard thesaural relationships.” Thesauri are usually considered the most complex of controlled vocabularies.
- SN The inclusion of a vocabulary term in a controlled vocabulary based on use by users. Such terms can be identified through search log analysis or free listing.
- SN A vocabulary term that means nearly the same thing as a preferred term. Variant terms are used in the controlled vocabulary to provide entry terms that lead to preferred terms. Variant terms may include synonyms, lexical variants, quasi-synonyms and abbreviations. Variant terms are sometimes referred to as “entry terms.” The collection of all variant terms may be referred to as the “entry vocabulary.”
- SN A word or phrase in a controlled vocabulary. It may be a preferred term or variant term. Vocabulary terms may exhibit several types of term relationships.
Fred Leise, president of ContextualAnalysis, LLC, is an information architecture consultant providing services in the areas of content analysis and organization, user experience design, taxonomy and thesaurus creation, and website and back-of-book indexing.
Mike Steckel is an Information Architect/Technical Librarian for International SEMATECH in Austin, TX.