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)

Individual Student Registration Form
Group Registration Form for 2-10 participants from the same organization taking the course at the same time.

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:
Participant fee: $200 per participant.
Course administration fee: $75 total for up to 10 participants from the same organization taking the course at the same time.
This comes to $275 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: $275
2 Participants: $475
3 Participants: $675
4 Participants: $875
5 Participants: $1,075
6 Participants: $1,275
7 Participants: $1,475
8 Participants: $1,675
9 Participants: $1,875
10 Participants: $2,075

There is no upper 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 (for individual or groups) and from any organizations with groups of 5 or more.

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

Course screenshot

Online taxonomy course screenshot
Online taxonomy course screenshot

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.

Comments from Past Students

I wanted to thank you for teaching one of the most informative online classes I have ever participated in. I’ve come away with exactly what I wanted – an overview of what a taxonomy is and how it is constructed, as well as some of the things to look for (intermediate steps J ) to make sure it’s well constructed, and the ability to build a simple one of my own in a pinch. The other thing I’ve taken away is an admiration for taxonomists; it is exacting work!

I just wanted to say Thanks to Heather for the abundance of information she was able to share in such a short time frame, all re: Taxonomy.

I agree with you about the benefits of this course, and Heather’s invaluable assistance. There is a lot to learn! I’d started the Accidental Taxonomist book before registering for this course. Now I’m going back and start from page one again. The two complement each other perfectly.

Found this workshop to be valuable; smoothly-run website, and course material and format very clear. Thank you!

Enjoyed the course, well-run, good review.

Just wanted to say thanks so much for a great workshop. I really got a lot out of it and enjoyed the rigorous pace and the depth of information you provided. I’m starting a taxonomy project in my workplace now, to implement in a new, currently under development, intranet. I’m referring to your weekly lessons quite a bit (!)

The taxonomy course has been such a help to me.

I’ve really enjoyed taking this workshop. I was a little intimidated because I don’t have a library science background, but Heather is a great teacher and I learned a lot. Thanks!

Very pleased overall–I’m always surprised how effective and instructive online courses are. Well done.

It was in-depth and challenging. I liked how seriously the subject matter was taken and how much one was expected to learn during the workshop.

Very clear, well managed. Instructor responded very quickly and was quite helpful.

I appreciated the great organization of materials, and the scope of references and additional sources of information–as well as demo software. Instructor was responsive.

For further questions, Heather Hedden.