Caryn Neiswender

Vocabularies: Dictionaries, Ontologies, and More

Every discipline has its own terminology. Consider terms that are used to describe vertical distances. The word “altitude” refers to the distance of something above a reference point like ground level, such as an airplane in flight. If we were examining a set of blueprints for a building we would not use the word “altitude” to describe the level of the rooftop, even though it is also a vertical distance above ground level.

Classification of Controlled Vocabularies

In understanding English, if we want to figure out what a word means, we might consult a dictionary or a glossary. Or we may use an etymology dictionary to track the history of a word. If we want to know how a term relates to other terms we might consult a thesaurus.

Like the vocabulary sources for the English language, controlled vocabularies for describing metadata can be classified by their purpose, their form, or their functionalities.

Classification by Purpose

Vocabularies may be defined by their ability to accomplish specific goals:

Categories of Controlled Vocabularies

As defined in Classification of Controlled Vocabularies, vocabularies can be defined by their structure and form. There are three broad categories of controlled vocabularies: flat, multilevel, and relational (also called a relationship list). Within these three categories, there are a variety of types of controlled vocabularies. A type is a simplified name for vocabularies further classified by function. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Thesaurus (Relational Vocabulary)

Definition, description and example of a thesaurus

Flat Vocabularies Multi -Level Vocabularies Relational Vocabularies
Authority File

Taxonomy (Multi-Level Vocabulary)

Definition, description and example of a taxonomy

Flat Vocabularies Multi -Level Vocabularies Relational Vocabularies
Authority File

Subject Heading (Multi-Level Vocabulary)

Definition, description and example of a subject heading

Flat Vocabularies Multi -Level Vocabularies Relational Vocabularies
Authority File

Semantic Network (Relational Vocabularies)

Definition, description and example of a semantic network

Flat Vocabularies Multi -Level Vocabularies Relational Vocabularies
Authority File

Ontology (Relational Vocabulary)

Definition, description and example of a semantic network

Glossary (Flat Vocabulary)

Definition, description of a glossary

Flat Vocabularies Multi -Level Vocabularies Relational Vocabularies
Authority File Glossary
Flat Vocabularies Multi -Level Vocabularies Relational Vocabularies
Authority File

Gazetteer (Flat Vocabulary)

Definition, description, and example of a gazetteer

Flat Vocabularies Multi -Level Vocabularies Relational Vocabularies
Authority File

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