Online Taxonomy Course

Taxonomies and Controlled Vocabularies
Self-Paced Online Course for Individuals or Corporate Groups

Five self-paced lessons, available at any time (no live component)

Course Description

Taxonomies are structured sets of terms used for tagging or categorizing content. They are used in a wide variety of applications ranging from document indexing, digital asset management, enterprise content management, commercial product categorization, online news service interfaces, and web site information architecture.

This course provides both a basic introduction to taxonomies, discusses best practices for creating terms and relationships, and provides some practice to start working on taxonomies and thesauri. This course also includes exclusive student trial access to some taxonomy management systems.

Course Outline

Lesson 1: Introduction to taxonomies
Types of taxonomies and controlled vocabularies, their definitions, and uses. Links to examples on the Web will be included for various types.

  1. Definitions of taxonomy, controlled vocabularies, thesauri, etc.
  2. Types and applications of taxonomies and controlled vocabularies
  3. Controlled vocabulary structure, hierarchies, and facets

Lesson 2: Wording of terms and their variants
Deciding how to name preferred terms and non-preferred terms in the controlled vocabulary

  1. Wording of terms: style and format, choosing the preferred term, and dealing with homonyms
  2. Variant names for concepts: synonyms, nonpreferred terms, alternative labels, etc.
  3. Other term-creation issues: pre-coordination and post-coordinating, term notes and attributes, and term categories.

Lesson 3: Hierarchical structure and term relationships
Best practices for structuring a taxonomy or thesaurus according to recognized standards

  1. Broader/narrower relationships
  2. Related-term relationships
  3. Semantic variations of relationships
  4. Creating hierarchies

Lesson 4: Software for creating taxonomies
An overview of the various software tools to help create develop and edits taxnomies and thesauri. Students are encouraged to try out a free trial of at least one of these software tools. If students already have a taxonomy management tool, instructor feedback can be provided on some term entry examples.

  1. Overview of thesaurus software
  2. MultiTes
  3. Synaptica
  4. Smartlogic’s Semaphore Ontology Editor
  5. PoolParty
  6. Data Harmony Thesaurus Master
  7. Other thesaurus software

Lesson 5: Concluding topics and issues

  1. Processes for taxonomy development and implementation
  2. Taxonomy maintenance and governance
  3. Folksonomies or social tagging

Course Basics

Duration: This course was designed to take a month, but it can be completed in slightly more or less time, as desired. The maximum length of time with instructor feedback is two months.

Lessons: Lesson texts are comprised of a set of three to six web pages, one for each chapter of the lesson. Each lesson has links, and some have associated graphics of screenshots. It is not necessary to go through an entire lesson at one sitting, but each chapter page is designed to be read at one sitting. The lessons and chapters vary in length, depending on the topic. The intended pace is one lesson per week, but you may proceed faster or slower.

Exercises/Assignments: Most lessons have assignments. Although you are not required to submit the assignments, you are welcome to submit them as e-mail attachments to the instructor for feedback. You may modify to content of some of the exercises to reflect examples in your own work. Questions to the instructor are welcome at any time.

Discussion: With a group of three or more, a shared e-mail mailing list can be used for discussion and questions of common interest will be answered by the instructor to the group.

Software: Special software does not need to be purchased to complete the workshop, but students should try a free demo version of one or more of the software tools discussed in Lesson 4. Hedden Information Management provides exclusive student trial access for the duration of the course for web-based applications Synaptica and PoolParty. MultiTes is available for download for Windows for a free 30-day trial, and Semaphore Ontology Editor may be accessed as a web application for a free 30-day trial. Students of this course may also purchase the full license of MultiTes for personal use at the discounted price of only $99.

Readings: The required reading is: ANSI/NISO Z39.19 Guidelines for Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Controlled Vocabularies, which is provided as a freely downloadable pdf.
Also, highly recommended is the book: Hedden, Heather (2016) The Accidental Taxonomist, 2nd edition

Links to additional articles on the Web are provided within each lesson.

Hours Expected: The number of hours put in depends on the extent that you work on a taxonomy project of your own and how much optional reading you want to do. Past students have put in from 2 to 8 hours per lesson, with 5 hours per lesson being the average.

Costs and Registration

Registration costs are as follows:
Course administration fee: $75 total for up to 10 participants from the same organization taking the course at the same time.
Participant fee: $195 per participant.
This comes to $270 for an individual, but it is a lower rate per individual for groups of two or more simultaneous students from the same organization.

1 Participant: $270
2 Participants: $465
3 Participants: $660
4 Participants: $855
5 Participants: $1,050
6 Participants: $1,245
7 Participants: $1,440
8 Participants: $1,635
9 Participants: $1,830
10 Participants: $2,025

There is no limit to the number of participants in a group.

Please complete the appropriate online registration form, which will automatically notify Heather Hedden of your registration.

Full pre-payment is required. Payment is accepted by credit card (via PayPal), PayPal direct, or by mailed check. Additionally, electronic funds transfer is accepted from government agencies and government contractors.

Discounts are offered to former/repeat students, whether it was through Simmons College or through Hedden Information Management. Please  a request with the month and year you had previously taken the course.

Course Advantages

Individualized feedback and answers to questions

In contrast to a group course, where discussion forum etiquette is to ask questions only of common interest to the other students, in this individualized course, it’s acceptable to ask specific-case questions.

Always available to start any time

The continuing education workshop previously taught through Simmons College was offered only a certain number of times per year and students had to register 2-3 months in advance before the session filled up. Sometimes people need to learn taxonomy development skills on shorter notice or at a time when a college course is not being offered. This independent self-paced online course is always available, and participants can start as soon as they register and pay, even as soon as the next day.

Less of a commitment than a college continuing education course

The continuing education workshop previously offered through Simmons College was set at 5 weeks. Inevitably, every session there were students who could not finish the course in that time due to various unforeseen circumstances. This independent self-paced version of the online workshop has the same amount of content but remains available online to students with instructor access for questions for two months (9 weeks) by default, and requests for extensions are always granted.


For further questions, Heather Hedden.