Taxonomy FAQs

These taxonomy FAQs are grouped into four categories:

Short answers are available here. Longer answers are available to Taxonomy Community members via our Connect Library.

The Profession and Skills

1. Where do I find taxonomist or taxonomy jobs?

Taxonomists work for varied employers: government, international agencies, publishers, information providers, retailers’ search engines, consultancies, software vendors, and large corporations in any industry. Finding these jobs is not easy, since titles other than taxonomist might be used.

2. How much technical knowledge do I need to develop taxonomies?

Although technical knowledge is not needed to develop taxonomies, it can greatly help and having such skills can lead to more career opportunities.

3. Where do I get specific education or training in becoming a taxonomist?

The basic education for taxonomy work are courses in knowledge organization taught at graduate schools of library or information science. However, many taxonomists learn the needed skills over years of on the job training and experience. Continuing education courses and conference workshops are a good way to supplement partial experience.

4. What is a typical salary range for a taxonomist?

Salaries range greatly, usually between $50,000 and $100,000, depending on additional skills. Many taxonomists work as independent contractors, where hourly rates also vary significantly, depending on whether one is simply contracted to help build and edit taxonomy terms or whether one is providing more comprehensive taxonomy consulting services.

5. I’m in library school – can you recommend the kinds of classes I should take if I want to become a taxonomist?

Although courses with taxonomy in their title are rare, topics related to taxonomy creation (subject classification, user experience, organization of information) are taught in a number of courses. Thesaurus construction courses provide a good background for taxonomy work, but may not cover all the applications of taxonomies.

6. I’m a reference librarian now. Do I need any special training to become a taxonomist?

If you regularly utilize online search systems that display taxonomies that you browse, navigate and utilize terms from for search, as a power taxonomy user that is a good preparation to being taxonomist. You should also supplement this experience with some training specific to taxonomy creation, in a workshops or continuing education course.

7. I’m a cataloger. Do I have the necessary skill set to become a taxonomist?

If you do original descriptive cataloging, not merely copy cataloging, you would have part of the skill set to become a taxonomist.

8. Are there any introductory books about taxonomy that you can recommend?

The Accidental Taxonomist (by Heather Hedden, Information Today Inc., 2010) is an excellent introduction to the field. Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness (by Patrick Lambe, Chandos Publishing, 2007) complements Hedden’s book by providing more information on taxonomy project management and has numerous case studies.

9. What is a typical day like for a taxonomist?

There is no such thing as a typical day. During the taxonomy development process, which can take months, there are phases that involve different kinds of work for periods of time. Once a taxonomy is implemented, there are perhaps daily maintenance tasks, but then there are also special projects that come up.

Taxonomy Basics

10. What is the difference between a thesaurus and a taxonomy?

A thesaurus usually includes more kinds of relationships for each term, than a simple taxonomy, namely associative relationships. A thesaurus is also more term focused, with an alphabetical arrangement of terms and their details, while a taxonomy is focused on the hierarchy.

11. How do taxonomies relate to metadata?

Taxonomies can support metadata and thus are the source for terms in many descriptive metadata fields. Not all metadata uses taxonomies, and not all taxonomies are used for metadata support, though.

12. How do taxonomies relate to ontologies?

Ontologies are more complex knowledge organization systems than taxonomies. In ontologies, terms are categorized by classes and customized semantic relationships exist between terms of different pairs of classes. Ontologies are also supported by different technology.

13. How does taxonomy relate to Google and to other search engines?

Web search engines, such as Google, don’t use a true taxonomy, but rather term equivalency tables to help support common matches, such as misspellings. Enterprise search engines, on the other hand may incorporate a taxonomy for a more limited scope of content.

14. Is a taxonomy that supports search different than a taxonomy for browsing/navigation, or could it be the same one taxonomy?

It’s better if they are different taxonomies. Although they may share many of the same terms, they are constructed differently for different purposes.

15. How is content tagged with a taxonomy?

It can be done manually, by human indexers, or automatically by an autocategorization or autoclassifciation system which is a component of some search software.

16. How does taxonomy relate to social media, like Twitter and Facebook?

Social media involve the feature of tagging content with keywords, such as tags on photos in Flikr, hash tag labels in Twitter posts, and shared locations, schools, and favorite activities in Facebook profiles. While these tags are neither controlled nor are they structurally related to each other, as in taxonomy, they do allow the user to explore links and relationships based on shared tags.

17. How does taxonomy relate to my corporate Intranet?

A taxonomy is a valuable tool for a corporate Intranet.  Corporate Intranets are often based on a content management system, and content management systems can provide a structured way to related taxonomies to content. Furthermore, enterprise search engines can leverage taxonomies for more precise search results on an Intranet.

Practicalities and Taxonomy Project Planning

18. I see the need for and would like to create a taxonomy in my organization. How do I make the case?

Do your research. There are studies on the amount of time employees waste with ineffective search methods.  You can also Google taxonomy+ROI to obtain some presentations on the topic.  It would also be useful to point to examples of taxonomies in place in similar organizations to yours.

19. How do I get started creating a taxonomy in my organization?

Assuming you have made the case for, the first step is gather information by interviewing stakeholders and taking a survey or audit of the content which the taxonomy is supposed to cover. Before taxonomy development begins, a taxonomy project plans needs to be drawn up.

20. My IT department thinks that we don’t need taxonomy and that our search engine is good enough; how can I convince them otherwise?

Search engines that do not utilize taxonomies are adequate for the entire Web, where they user typically is looking for any results. However, more precise results are needed for enterprise search, and taxonomies enhance both precision and recall in search. Even the best search technologies focus on matching words in text, not meaning, and miss synonyms and falsely retrieve homograph words, when there is not taxonomy to bring together synonyms and disambiguate homographs.

21. Can you point me to any good taxonomy management tools?

Tools include Data Harmony  Thesaurus Master, Synaptica, SmartLogic, Shemalogic, Wordmap, and MultiTes, among others. The choice of taxonomy management tool depends on whether you need additional capabilities, such as indexing, search, ontology support, etc.

22. How do I estimate the number of hours needed to create a taxonomy?

This is very difficult estimate, since taxonomies vary greatly not only in their size but in their type.  Even a taxonomy relatively small in its number of terms may require considerable research time in determining the best structure and top terms or facets.  A small or high-level starter taxonomy can be researched and created in tens of hours, but most medium-to-large taxonomy projects involve hundreds of hours.

23. Can I get a taxonomy my organization has evaluated by someone external?

Definitely. Taxonomy consultants, especially independent consultants, will take on both small evaluation projects comprising as few as 20 hours, in addition to bigger taxonomy design and development projects.

24. If I have a relatively large taxonomy to create is it practical to contract out to freelance taxonomy editors while still managing the project internally?

Yes, it is. If managing more than one taxonomy editor, then the internal project manager also needs to be skilled as a taxonomist to provide instruction and guidance to the taxonomy editors and reconcile any differences.

25. How and when should I engage subject matter experts in the creation and review of a taxonomy?

The initial taxonomy design plan stage, even for a technical subject, would not likely involve subject matter experts. If a specialty subject area is to be covered, subject matter experts may be consulted when preferred term names are being developed. They definitely should be included in the later stage of the review of a taxonomy.If the taxonomy comprises specialized terminology, then subject matter experts should be consulted from the very beginning.


Technical  Aspects

26. How do I connect a taxonomy to an indexing user interface?

How do indexers access the taxonomy?While some commercial taxonomy management software systems include an indexing interface, others do not, and many organizations with regular indexing operations develop their own simple indexing user interfaces that allow access to the imported taxonomy.

27. How is a taxonomy integrated into a content management system?

A content management system permits the association of various metadata with a content item, and taxonomies can be used to populate some of the metadata fields with consistent terms.  Content management systems vary, though, in their ability to manage taxonomies, so it may be  preferable to create a taxonomy externally and import it into the content management system.

28. How is a taxonomy utilized and integrated into SharePoint?

Taxonomy can be utilized in SharePoint in different ways: (1) as a browsable navigation taxonomy in the hierarchy and names of content libraries and lists, (2)  in the metadata of content items such as the content types, and (3) if through third-party integration, in search. SharePoint 2010 has a feature for the development and shared use of hierarchical taxonomies.

29. How do I import or export taxonomies from one system to another?

All commercial taxonomy management software offer at least some choices in import and export formats. CSV and variations of XML are the most common for export formats. It is not always a simple task, though.

30. What is automatic categorization software?  How does it relate to taxonomy?

Automatic categorization  or auto-classification is a form of automated indexing that associates appropriate taxonomy terms with a document, based on one or more different technologies (such as rules or machine-learning) that automatically analyze the text and compare it with data stored with a given taxonomy term and possibly other data.

Design Best Practices

31. When should I create a single taxonomy versus multiple taxonomies for the same project?

If there is to be any interrelations between the terms, even if they are in different hierarchies or facets, then they should be in the same taxonomy, but they can have different classification tags.

32. How do I balance depth and breadth in creating a taxonomy? How many levels deep is ideal?

For consumers or the general public, usually not more than three levels, unless it is in an area that is naturally or logically hierarchical, such as product categories, or geographic locations. For a specialized expert users, more levels, to four or five, may be appropriate and expected.

33. How do I decide whether to build a faceted taxonomy or a hierarchical taxonomy?

Faceted taxonomies are better suited to content that is of a consistent type, so that most data records have the same kinds of attributes that could serve as facets. Hierarchical taxonomies are more suitable when the taxonomy concepts can logically be categorized into hierarchies, such as product categories or geographic locations.

34. Should I have related terms in my taxonomy or just broader/narrower terms?

If the purpose is to support navigation or browsing for topics, than just broader/narrower terms are often sufficient. Faceted taxonomies also don’t use associative relationships. If you are trying support expert users, cover a domain of knowledge, or build a thesaurus for literature retrieval, then the addition of associative relationships is recommended.

35. For a faceted taxonomy, how many facets are ideal?

This depends on the type of content, but 3-6 is common. Ironically, the more narrow the subject scope, the greater number of facets that can be supported. A faceted taxonomy for a specific type of product may be able to support more than 6 and still be easy to use.