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Notes on “Creating a Controlled Vocabulary”

Creating a Controlled Vocabulary

 Fast, Karl, Fred Leise and Mike Steckel (2003)


This was a good rundown of the general process of creating a controlled vocabulary, but a lot of this seems pretty apparent to me. I guess I shouldn’t assume that this stuff is obvious, though, given how many companies make web sites or intranets without really bothering to find out how their users use vocabulary for their domain, or even establishing a vocabulary, for that matter.

The two most important points, to me, are number 5, “Establish a record of the rules you are using if you are creating a large thesaurus” and number 8, “Go back and refine. What can be improved?” In fact I think the whole notion of controlled vocabulary is misguided if there’s no clear rationale for it and attempts to update and maintain the terms at all times. Language in any field is constantly changing, and the pace of change is always accelerating. Anyone who was building a directory of Internet services would have left off the World Wide Web in 1989, and any list about self-publishing on the web would probably have left off the term “blog” in 1998. How useful would those pick lists be today?

Controlled vocabulary can be damaging if there’s no mechanism for change, or that mechanism is left unused. I don’t know why, but humanity seems to have some undying urge to compile things around ourselves into grand lists and hierarchies that are supposed to encompass all of what is or ever has been, ignoring our complete ignorance of what the future will bring. It’s not that classification in and of itself is bad, it’s that there’s a tendency to get to the “end” and say, “there, it’s done, and set in stone forever.”