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The 4 Steps to Designing an Effective Taxonomy: Step #2 Make Sure Your Facets Are Consistent

Taxonomy is not as daunting as it seems. In this blog series, one of EK’s taxonomy experts, Ben White, provides 4 practical steps to designing and validating a user-centric taxonomy.

Step #2: Make Sure Your Facets Are Consistent

In the first blog of my series, “The 4 Steps to Designing an Effective Taxonomy,” I spoke about the importance of designing a user-centric taxonomy. Indeed, developing an understanding of how people think about the content in question allows a taxonomist to design a clear and consistent taxonomy, enabling site visitors to find what they need. Though this may be the first step, it’s hardly the last. Once you have completed an initial taxonomy design, it’s essential to remain consistent with faceted classification when tagging your content, which is the subject of today’s blog.

For intranets and websites, the cost of an ill-considered taxonomy is efficiency. Creating a truly successful taxonomy
1design involves breaking down the content by its attributes and organizing those attributes in an easily understandable classification scheme. During this process, the taxonomist will develop multiple taxonomies related to several different categories, or facets. This method is known as faceted classification.

The end result of a faceted classification system is a faceted search capability. Faceted search is a technique that allows users to explore a collection of information by applying multiple filters. This enables users to practice a hybrid of search and browse to find content. Because users expect navigation systems to behave rationally, the terms found in the faceted classification system should describe the body of content using common and naturally occurring descriptors.

Although there is no universal set of facets that can be used across information environments, we have found there are several common facets:

  • Topic/Subject
  • Document/Product Type
  • Format
  • Audience
  • Geography

Of course this list is not exhaustive, but it’s an excellent place to start when designing a faceted classification system. A few additional tips:

  • Ensure that the terms that fall beneath each of these facets are mutually exclusive and clearly communicate the universe of content it is describing.
  • Choose a list of preferred terms that reduces confusion.
  • Identify terms that speak the same language as the information environment’s users while accurately describing the content.

So, if we know that inconsistent terms can create ambiguity and decrease
2efficiency,
 what can we do to address these challenges? In Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Peter Morville outlines several guidelines for designing effective labels. These are applicable to taxonomy design as well. As Morville discusses, in order to ensure consistency it is important to pay close attention to:

  • Syntax– Verb-based terms (e.g. run) and noun-based terms (e.g. health & wellness) are often mixed together in a single faceted taxonomy. Choosing a single syntactic approach can improve consistency within the faceted search system.  
  • Granularity– Within a faceted classification system choosing terms that are approximately equal in specificity can reduce confusion and improve consistency. For example, “Stool”, “Table”, “Bergere”, and “Caquetoire” at the same level in the classification system will cause confusion among users when searching and browsing.  
  • Audience– When choosing preferred terms within a faceted classification system it is imperative that you choose the terminology most commonly used by the audience. For instance, using “Cute Puppies” and “Felis Catus” in the same classification system can confuse users when searching and browsing for information.

By being aware of syntax, granularity, and audience, the taxonomist can take steps to create a meaningful and consistent taxonomy that reduces confusion and increases efficiency. This benefits all users by increasing usability and findability.

Once you’ve established a taxonomy that is both user-centric and consistent with faceted classification, you’ll be ready for my next blog, which describes how to validate your taxonomy. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you would like help in managing your content more efficiently and enhancing the accessibility of your information, contact Enterprise Knowledge.   

Ben White Ben White An information and knowledge management expert. Ben is enthused about improving the flow of information and knowledge through Communities of Practice, taxonomy design, and information management strategies. More from Ben White »