2 June 2016

Research Data Things 12/23 - Vocabularies for Data Description

Getting Started Thing 12
The first idea that popped into my mind browsing through the list of thesauri across disciplines was - level of description! This is not just about describing a data set. This is about describing items within the set, and these are often complex:

  • sightings of animals
  • photographs
  • theatrical productions
  • interviews
One way of thinking about controlled vocabularies is that the words can be saved in a list (simple list in spreadsheet eg. lookup values, or dictionary or database) and could be used to populate a drop down menu in an online form, or could be rejected by the online form if they are not in the list. While that might not be available in a particular case and the researcher may just have a cell, or piece of paper or text box to type in - it should be feasible to build it - the system can control whether you have used a valid entry or not. Uncontrolled vocabularies typically are free text (alphanumeric) fields in online/computer systems. Just by viewing a record on a webpage it is not always obvious whether a field is using a controlled vocabulary.


Thing 12 asks us to share one idea for how we could encourage people to use controlled vocabularies in their research. My idea is that there should be a game we can play where teams get more points as they develop and use a controlled vocabulary. Clearly this needs lots of thought on how it would work - and whether it could actually work, but it should be a simple game that could be played in workshops. Or an online game as part of inductions for research students.