Preferred Terms

Terminology is critical. The following sections examine some aspects of terminology in detail.

Term Form

Defining the form of preferred terms is something that seems easy until you try it. All of a sudden, you find yourself plunged into heated arguments over grammatical minutiae. Should we use a noun or a verb? What’s the “correct” spelling? Do we use the singular or plural form? Can an abbreviation be a preferred term? These debates can suck up large amounts of time and energy.

Fortunately, the ANSI/NISO thesaurus standard goes into great detail in this area. We recommend following these guidelines, while allowing for exceptions when there’s clear benefit. Some of the issues covered by the standard include:


Our interpretation and advice

Grammatical form

The standard strongly encourages the use of nouns for preferred terms. This is a good default guideline, since users are better at understanding and remembering nouns than verbs or adjectives. However, in the real world, you’ll encounter lots of good reasons to use verbs (i.e., task-oriented words) and adjectives (e.g., price, size, variety, color) in your controlled vocabularies.


The standard notes that you can select a “defined authority,” such as a specific dictionary or glossary, or you can choose to use your own “house style.” You might also consider the most common spelling forms employed by your users. The most important thing here is that you make a decision and stick to it. Consistency ...

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