Overview to Choosing and Implementing Established Controlled Vocabularies

There are two ways to obtain a controlled vocabulary: start with an existing vocabulary or build your own. We strongly recommend the first approach for most situations. There are four steps in creating a system with integrated controlled vocabularies. (If you have implemented your own vocabulary, you can apply steps three and four after your new controlled vocabulary is established.)

1. Choose a Controlled Vocabulary

Although just a few years ago there were very few mature controlled vocabularies for marine science concepts, today there are many possible candidates to consider. The process of finding suitable candidates, evaluating them, and deciding on the best one is described in the guide Choosing a Controlled Vocabulary.

2. Implement Controlled Vocabularies in Your System

The controlled vocabulary you choose must be integrated into your system. Basic implementation may involve creating and populating a drop-down menu. Because most vocabularies will change over time, keeping your system current will require some strategic decisions and planning for the future.

3. Map Among Controlled Vocabularies

To ensure that your data will be discoverable and understandable outside your project, you may wish to map relationships between relevant vocabularies. Users of some systems may need to understand which terms in your controlled vocabulary correspond to terms in a different controlled vocabulary, or they may wish to interface with your system using their own terms. In these cases, you may need to create a map between two or more different vocabularies. The guide Mapping Among Controlled Vocabularies describes this process and the available tools.

4. Achieving Semantic Interoperability

Making your data and metadata usable in the future, across systems and domains, is the essence of semantic interoperability. This demands use of a consistent semantic framework that incorporates precision in data entry, naming of variables, and scoping of metadata descriptions so that computer systems—and ultimately the human user—can make use of your terms and your data. We address this topic in the guide Achieving Semantic Interoperability.

The Big Picture

Vocabularies are in their infancy. Patterns for adopting, using, and maintaining vocabularies in data systems are not uniformly followed. Mappings are relatively new and immature, and end-to-end solutions that achieve semantic interoperability are few. Nonetheless, these four steps are essential for good practices when using an established controlled vocabulary.

We encourage you to help us reference the best practices and examples in this field and to help us describe the processes that provide the best results.

Suggested Citation

Graybeal, J. 2015. "Overview to Choosing and Implementing Established Controlled Vocabularies." In The MMI Guides: Navigating the World of Marine Metadata. http://marinemetadata.org/guides/vocabs/cvchooseimplement. Accessed July 16, 2020.