Standards For Controlled Vocabularies – Straightjacket Or Straight Edge?

Standards were unpopular among future rail tycoons in the 1880s. The standard set of railway tracks put an end to lucrative loading and unloading work. Incompatible caterpillars kept the rolling stock of other boys on the tracks of another man.

Eventually standards emerged when several tycoons figured out how to make even more money through standardization.

Many industries use this broadly open approach only to discover that certain methods or designs become part of life over time.

There are standards for controlled dictionaries. You can learn more about this by visiting ANSI’s markup, ontology, and related topics. An example is the thematic committee for managing content and collection. You may have your favorite standardization body or you’re creating your own standard. Google has achieved this with its approach to site maps. Most organizations do not have the power to set standards.

In the world of professional indexing, we talk a lot about standards. In practice, however, there is some levity in the creation and application of lists of controlled terms and their use. Indexing has been going on for millennia, and if the Ephesus cataloger were to revise the indexing methods used for certain business information systems, this cataloger would feel at home. Little has changed in 2,000 years. There are plenty of exceptions. Eclectic indexing is more common than standard ANSI methods.


In my opinion, there are four reasons. First, developing an ANSI-compatible list of controlled terms is an intellectually complex job. Even in the limited field of science, technology or medicine, work stimulates mental development and almost always requires constant care and nutrition. They are reviewed every five years to keep them up to date with the technologies and companies for which they are designed.

Second, lists of term-compliant terms take time. In our fast-paced business environment, there is often no need for tedious work, such as the development of term lists. I call it “knowledge starvation” and, unlike fasting, fasting often does more harm than good. Third, existing lists and users who want to create their own index terms are becoming more common. End users do not have time to use controlled glossaries. So, what solution do many people offer? Just allow end users to choose index terms from the air. Unfortunately, some organizations lack intellectual rigor. Folkonomy and social branding are the direct answers. But they don’t work and are short-lived.

Fourthly, I think that some “experts” do not know what they do not know. Creating a glossary seems trivial. A poorly compiled list of terms is easy to solve. Most complaints of poor indexation can be attributed to “experts” who, surprisingly, are not. The search engine may be hindered by poor indexing, carelessly verified lists of terms, and strange classification of information objects. Is there a solution?

Yes. If you need to develop a proven glossary that meets strict standards, you want to work with a company with knowledge and professional experience.

Standards are not a straitjacket. Standards make the process faster and more consistent. Standards can make it easier to find information.

There is no solution when lists of controlled terms are developed by self-proclaimed professionals. Perhaps in the future there will be a certification program for those who work in the field of professional indexing. Smart software has not yet prevented an expert or subject matter professional who can develop high-quality lists of terms compatible with ISO/ANSI/NISO.

If these lists are designed to be modified and maintained, this will be an even simpler and more flexible approach. The construction of “taxonom,” a broader and narrower term for relationship-oriented hierarchy based on term writing, provides speed, accuracy, ease of modification and application of term lists.

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