Boxes and Arrows: What Is A Controlled Vocabulary?

Interesting and relevant article. As a species we find it all too difficult to communicate effectively between one another, and this dilemma is particularly relevant when it comes to communicating via electronic media. It is difficult if not impossible to convey to our ‘listener’ what our underlying feelings concerning that which we are writing about. This often leads to confusion and misinterpretation.

“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.

When we converse, we speak in ?natural language.? This is language in all its raw, rich, gooey glory. 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. Amy Warner defines a controlled vocabulary (CV) as ?organized lists of words and phrases, or notation systems, that are used to initially tag content, and then to find it through navigation or search.? This means that a CV is a type of metadata that functions as a ?subset of natural language?(Wellisch); it is not how we normally speak. Using a CV is also a way to overtly display relationships among the various concepts that your site covers in order to increase findability. The most basic, and often overlooked, form of controlled vocabulary is a consistent labeling system. If you are careful to call the same thing, or the same concept, by the same name everywhere on your site, you are using a very simple controlled vocabulary. And you’re also ensuring that your users start developing a mental model of the information they can find.”

What is a controlled vocabulary