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Metadata Basics

Controlled Vocabularies

Controlled Vocabularies

Controlled vocabularies are standardized and organized arrangements of words and phrases and provide a consistent way to describe data. Metadata creators assign terms from vocabularies to improve information retrieval.

Common types of controlled vocabularies include subject headings lists, authority files, and thesauri. Controlled vocabularies can be arranged as alphabetical lists of terms or as taxonomies with a hierarchical structure of broader and narrower terms. Thesauri also include synonyms, related terms, scope and editorial notes, term history, alternate languages, or numerical codes. Ontologies include even more specification, such as descriptions of terms or concepts by their position in the hierarchy and any number of relationships to other terms/concepts.

There are well-established standards to control names of people, geographic names, topics, concepts, resource types or genres, and languages.

Below are examples of controlled vocabularies commonly used in various communities. There are also tools available to help find appropriate vocabularies and ontologies.

General Purpose

Arts & Humanities

Physical & Life Sciences

Social & Behavioral Sciences

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