Stephen P. Miller

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:

Metadata Classifications

In developing data systems, a number of categories have been used for metadata. This guide explains a few of these and some of their strengths and weaknesses.

Case Studies

DIGARCH Cruise Harvest

Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) project to archive cruise data in an interoperable environment, using tools developed at SIO

Controlled Vocabularies (CV) for Metadata Harvesting

Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) experience using database technology to harvest and correct erroneous metadata

Definition of Metadata

Metadata are used to describe data or information. In environmental sciences like oceanography, metadata describe the information that scientists collect and informs users about the characteristics and history of a data set or data item—including methodological, temporal and spatial information.

The word metadata is sometimes used in a singular form (metadata is). We use the plural (metadata are). Both are in common usage, though in the sciences it’s typically used in the plural.

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