Managing Tagging with a Taxonomy

A lot of work can be put into designing and creating a taxonomy, but if it’s not implemented or used properly for tagging or indexing, then that work can be wasted. As the volume of content has grown, many organizations have invested in auto-tagging/auto-categorization solutions utilizing text analytics technologies. However, there remain many situations where manual tagging is still more practical. So, support for correct and efficient manual tagging needs to be considered. This is the topic of my upcoming presentation at the Taxonomy Boot Camp conference, in Washington, DC, on November 4.

Tagging & search graphic

A taxonomy can be designed to support manual tagging by including alternative labels (synonyms), hierarchical and associative relationships between terms, and term notes, to guide those doing the tagging to the most appropriate terms, even if these taxonomy features are not fully available to end-users in their user interface. It may be easier to have these features available in a customized manual tagging/indexing tool than it is to make them available in the end-user application. A taxonomy has more than one set of users, and the tagging-users need the full benefits a taxonomy can offer.

It’s very important to develop a customized policy for tagging with a taxonomy, so that it is used correctly and consistently. Any policy for tagging or indexing should include both rules and recommended guidelines. Examples of policy topics include:

  • Criteria for determining topic or name relevancy for tagging
  • Depth and level of detail of tagging
  • Comprehensiveness of aspects (what, who, where, when, how, why, etc.)
  • Required term types/facets (and any dependencies)
  • Number of terms (of each type) to tag
  • Tagging of certain terms in combination (e.g.: a parent/broader term in addition to its narrower/child term)
  • Other types of metadata that must be entered

It’s often not enough to just provide people with a policy document. Some degree of training on proper tagging can be very beneficial. In a current SharePoint taxonomy project, one of the users who tags uploaded documents said to me, “The problem is that we have not been trained. We are guessing.” Policy and guidelines should initially be delivered as a presentation (live or web meeting) to allow for questions and answers.

With large volume tagging, the initial tagging should be reviewed and feedback should be provided. This is the case for both new and experienced indexers. Even experienced indexers need to become familiar with the content and learn the policies and guidelines that are particular to the organization and project. In a recent taxonomy project that involved indexing hundreds of articles by a professional indexer, even the professional indexer’s initial indexing was reviewed to make sure it was as thorough and accurate as required.

Finally, there needs to me a method of communication and feedback between those doing the tagging and the person (taxonomist) who is managing the taxonomy, which is a controlled vocabulary, after all. The taxonomist should inform those tagging of new terms and changed terms, especially if they are high-profile terms, and may also provide tips for tagging new and trending topics. Meanwhile those doing tagging need a method to contact the taxonomist to request clarifications or the addition of new terms. This could be by email, but collaboration workspaces may also work well.  While I, as a consultant, do not stay on as tagging continues, I like to be available at the start of tagging with a new taxonomy, to answer indexing questions, something I did just this past month on my most recent consulting project.

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