Controlled Vocabularies: A Glosso-Thesaurus

“There is a singular lack of vocabulary control in the field of controlled vocabularies.”
— Bella Hass Weinberg

This is part 4 in our continuing series on controlled vocabularies and faceted classification. Previous parts in the series include:

All About Facets and Controlled Vocabularies (series introduction)
1. What is a Controlled Vocabulary?
2. Creating a Controlled Vocabulary
3. Synonym Rings and Authority Files


“There is a singular lack of vocabulary control in the field of controlled vocabularies,” Bella Hass Weinberg, professor of library science at St. John’s University in New York, is fond of saying.

To help you cut through the maze of verbiage often found in this field, we have created a glossary of terms.

The glossary reflects our usage of terms in the articles of this series. But this glossary is more than just a list of terms. We wanted it to serve as an illustration of what a controlled vocabulary looks like (we are fond of killing multiple birds with multiple stones).

Accordingly, the glossary is itself a controlled vocabulary, more specifically a thesaurus. So you will find all of the standard features of any thesaurus: broader, narrower, and variant term indicators, as well as scope notes. In this case, however, the scope notes provide the definition of the particular glossary term being presented.


The following standard abbreviations are used in the glosso-thesaurus.

     BT = Broader Term
     NT = Narrower Term
     RT = Related Term (“See also”)
     SN = Scope Note
     UF = Used For
     USE = “See” (Refers reader from variant term to vocabulary term.)

Alternate Term

Associative Relationship

Authority File

Broader Term

Card Sorting

Child Term

Controlled Vocabulary

Entry Term

Equivalence Relationship



    SN A fundamental category by which an object or concept may be described. For example, a child’s ball may be described using the facets of size, weight, shape, color, texture, material and price.

    RT Facet Analysis
         Faceted Classification

Facet Analysis

    SN The process of analyzing content to determine appropriate facets and vocabulary term relationships, using “one characteristic of division at a time, to produce homogeneous, mutually-exclusive groups.” *

    RT Facet
         Faceted Classification

    * Aitchison, Jean, Alan Gilchrist, and David Bawden (2002). Thesaurus Construction and Use: A Practical Manual. 4th ed. Chicago: Fitzroy-Dearborn, pg. 70.

Faceted Classification

Free Listing


    SN The level of specificity with which content is described. The more granular, the more specific.

    RT Specificity


Hierarchical Relationship

Literary Warrant

    SN The inclusion of a vocabulary term in a controlled vocabulary based on its appearance in one or more content items. For example, a medical text may use the term “oncology.” Based on literary warrant, that term would be included in the controlled vocabulary even though the general public uses the term “cancer.”

    RT User Warrant
         Vocabulary Term

Narrower Term

Natural Language

Parent Term



    SN A ratio that measures the success of a search. Precision is defined mathematically as the number of relevant items returned by a search divided by the total number of items returned by the search. Thus, a search that returned only relevant items would have a precision of 1.0.

    Precision usually has an inverse relationship to recall. That is, increasing the precision of a search usually decreases the recall. Precision can be increased by increasing the specificity of vocabulary terms. For more information, see:

         IAWiki: “Recall vs. Precision”
         Ongoing: “On Search: Precision and Recall”

    RT Recall

Preferred Term


Related Term

    SN Vocabulary terms in a controlled vocabulary that are closely related. That is, they refer to closely related concepts. Abbreviated in displays as “RT.” Related terms may, for example, exhibit the following relationships:

         field of study/objects studied
         action/product of action

    For additional information, see the section in associative relationships in What is A Controlled Vocabulary? by Karl Fast, Mike Steckel and Fred Leise.

    UF “See Also” Term
    RT Associative Relationship

Scope Note

    SN (1) A definition of a preferred term in a controlled vocabulary. (2) An indication of restrictions in meaning or other clarification needed for the proper use of the preferred term. Abbreviated in displays as “SN.” Examples of scope notes are provided throughout this glossary.

    RT Preferred Term

“See Also” Term


Synonym Equivalence List

Synonym Ring



Term Relationship

Thesaurus; pl. Thesauri

User Warrant

Variant Term

    SN A vocabulary term that means nearly the same thing as a preferred term. Variant terms are used in the controlled vocabulary to provide entry terms that lead to preferred terms. Variant terms may include synonyms, lexical variants, quasi-synonyms and abbreviations. Variant terms are sometimes referred to as “entry terms.” The collection of all variant terms may be referred to as the “entry vocabulary.”

    UF Alternate Term
         Entry Term
         Non-preferred Term
    RT Equivalence Relationship
         Preferred Term

Vocabulary Term


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Readers' Comments (6)

Brett Lider's avatar

Reputation points

Posted 2003/10/29 @ 06:53AM with

To quote a colleague, this article is “painfully elegant.” I love the idea of the CV glossary being a CV itself.

victor's avatar

Reputation points

Posted 2003/11/05 @ 13:00PM with

Hey, where’s “aboutness” ??


Bob Huerster's avatar

Reputation points

Posted 2003/11/10 @ 05:15AM with

I like this “Glosso-Thesaurus.” Very clever. Nice addition to your helpful series on controlled vocabularies and faceted classification.

Tim's avatar

Reputation points

Posted 2004/11/10 @ 02:58AM with

Didn’t Glosso-Thesaurus fight Godzilla in “Giant Monster Gamera”?

Marcel van Mackelenbergh's avatar

Reputation points

Posted 2005/10/02 @ 19:57PM with

My opinion on facets is different. I think a facet is a way in which a user may look at the object. This means that a facet says as much about the user as it says something about the object. I think a facet is the question a user may ask about the object. I think creating facets requires user analysis. I know my opinion is different from what I hear from others.

If you mention “aboutness”, I mention “basic-levelness”.

Fred Leise's avatar

Fred Leise

67 Reputation points

Posted 2006/01/05 @ 21:22PM with

Please note that the authors of this article are Karl Fast, Mike Steckel and Fred Leise.