- What is a keyword thesaurus?
- Existing thesaurus products
- Creating a keyword thesaurus
- Implementing a keyword thesaurus
- Reviewing a keyword thesaurus
In records management, a thesaurus is a tool that supports the classification of records into aggregates, or groups of related records. It is a 'controlled language' tool that ensures terms are used consistently throughout a recordkeeping system.
A keyword thesaurus is a thesaurus that groups records according to the business function they document.
A keyword thesaurus can be used as a tool to:
- control record titling
- facilitate user access to records, and
- link records to records management instruments such as disposal authorities or access classification schemes to automate records management processes.
A keyword thesaurus is based on the functions and activities that the organisation performs. Therefore, a records management thesaurus is quite different from subject thesauri used by libraries.
Ideally a keyword thesaurus should cover the whole of your business. However, in some cases, it is possible to develop thesaurus terms for a particular business unit or a particular function. Our advice in this case, is to create a draft map of functions using Step A and B before you concentrate on one function or business unit. See Step B for more information.
There may already be existing keyword thesaurus products that cover some or all of your business. You should examine these as a preliminary step in a thesaurus project to ascertain whether they will suit your needs.
Example: Existing keyword thesaurus products
State Records' Keyword AAA: A thesaurus of General Terms may provide adequate classification guidance for records generated when conducting standard administrative functions such as financial management, occupational health and safety, personnel, and property management.
Keyword for Councils provides a controlled language for all business conducted by local councils and county councils.
In the case of Keyword AAA, you will need to develop thesaurus terms to cover your core, unique functions, and merge them with this administrative thesaurus. As Keyword AAA has been developed for a very wide audience, and is necessarily generic, you may also decide to customise administrative terms to suit your particular organisation's needs and recordkeeping requirements using the DIRKS methodology.
Keyword for Councils includes thesaurus terms for all of a council's business, but again, it is generic, and you may still decide to customise terms to suit your particular organisation's needs and recordkeeping requirements using the DIRKS methodology.
If you decide these products are not suitable for you, or if you are embarking on your DIRKS project with additional goals in mind, such as redeveloping business systems to better implement recordkeeping tools, you will need to incorporate an assessment of how functions and activities are conducted in your organisation, and risks or issues associated with them in your Step A-C analysis.
Steps A to C of the DIRKS methodology can assist you to create a keyword thesaurus.
Step A: Preliminary investigation
A thesaurus for records management should comprehensively support the current business activities being carried out in an organisation. It is important you read and undertake at least parts of Step A as it helps you to understand your organisation's business at a broad level, how the business is performed and the reasons why it is performed. This understanding will be refined during subsequent steps.
If you are intending to develop thesaurus terms for one function or business unit, you should still broadly analyse your business in Step A but you can start to concentrate more on those sources that relate to the function or business unit.
When compiling a thesaurus, it is less important to note the history of functions, unless you are also intending to compile a retention and disposal authority as well.
Step B: Analysis of business activity
To compile a keyword thesaurus it is very important that you read and undertake Step B and produce a business classification scheme which will provide you with an in-depth knowledge of your business to ensure your titling scheme is valid and comprehensive, and the structure you need for thesaurus development.
If you are developing thesaurus terms for one business unit or function, you should still look at this analysis broadly, and at least map a preliminary classification scheme before concentrating your attention more on the particular area of interest. This will enable you to see how functions relate to each other or how the work of other business units impact on the business unit you are focusing on. Without this broader analysis, you may have a distorted view.
If you are only producing a thesaurus from the analysis, and are not undertaking DIRKS for other purposes as well, you may decide to identify groups of recurring transactions and subjects/topics rather than each transaction in a process or activity.
Step C: Identification of recordkeeping requirements
While a keyword thesaurus can be developed after Step B, it is advisable that Step C is also conducted for the areas of business you are examining. The reason for this is that the identification of your recordkeeping requirements allows you to understand more about the business that is being performed or that should be performed to meet your organisation's requirements for evidence. This will enable you to add useful information about file titling and creation to your thesaurus. It will also help you ensure that your thesaurus is fully covering all potential needs in a way that suits the business.
Example: Case files
You may have identified a number of activities in Step B in relation to one function. In Step C you may discover a recordkeeping requirement that says all matters pertaining to a particular case should be retained on a case file. Therefore, what is a number of activities in a BCS will become just one activity descriptor (covering the case) in a functional thesaurus.
If you are reviewing the applicability of an existing generic thesaurus, such as Keyword AAA or Keyword for Councils, investigating your specific recordkeeping requirements will help you to eliminate terms you do not require and customise other terms to better fit your business.
You can scale down this examination to the recordkeeping requirements that affect a particular business unit or function if that is the scope of your project.
There a numerous ways you may choose to implement a keyword thesaurus. Steps D-G of the DIRKS methodology can assist you in:
- defining the implementation issues with the systems you already have
- deciding on the strategies required to implement the thesaurus successfully
- designing or redesigning software and necessary system tools to support the thesaurus, and
- implementing the thesaurus effectively in your organisation.
Step D: Assessment of existing systems
While Step D is not essential for the development of a thesaurus, you may wish to undertake parts of this step to assess how current systems might handle the thesaurus and whether there are existing policies, procedures, strategies or programs which can assist you to introduce it. If there is not, you should identify what strategies you need in Step E: Identification of strategies for recordkeeping. Some redesign of the system (Step F) may be necessary to suit this and other recordkeeping tools and practices.
Step E: Identification of strategies for recordkeeping
If you have a thesaurus, or have developed one using DIRKS, Step E can assist you to assess the best strategies for successfully implementing the thesaurus in your organisation. Step E examines policy, design, standards and implementation strategies, so you can determine the combination of strategies that will be most suitable to achieve your aims.
Step F: Design of a recordkeeping system
If you wish to incorporate your thesaurus into the design of your recordkeeping systems, Step F will be useful to you.
Example: Business units with limited access
You may have decided in Step E that you wish to design the thesaurus module of your system so that business units only see and have access to the specific thesaurus terms that relate to their business activities, rather than all thesaurus terms. This will need to be designed in Step F.
Example: Standard file lists
You may decide in Step E to create standard file lists - ie. standard lists of commonly used file titles for each of the divisions in the organisation. These will be created in Step F. This approach:
- saves users effort in locating the correct title from the thesaurus, and
- ensures that each division is titling consistently.
Example: Integration with workflow
You may have decided in Step E that you wish to design the thesaurus so that it sits within workflow tools and is hence invisible to users. This will need to be designed in Step F.
Example: Mirrored terms in directory structures
You may decide to apply the hierarchical version of your thesaurus to your electronic network directories as well, so that it mirrors the structure in your records management system. This approach:
- helps staff to become familiar with the new management structure
- improves the document management of items in your shared network, and
- helps to facilitate your broad records management objectives.
Note: Users should be clearly told that the network is a working area, where documents in progress are drafted and kept. Your organisation's records management system should be the repository of all final 'records' of your organisation's business. 
Step G: Implementation of a recordkeeping system
A well planned implementation of thesaurus products, as outlined in Step G, is essential for the effectiveness of the project. A thesaurus impacts on the day to day working life of every staff member using it, and you need to give them the tools and education to interpret it in the correct way. Support tools, you identify in Step E and develop in Step F, such as standard file lists, can be introduced in your implementation.
As part of implementing your new controlled vocabulary, you should undertake e-tidying. E-tidying could involve moving records in your networks or records systems to their locations in the new directory structure. As well as removing material that is no longer required by the organisation, e-tidying can also help to reduce the duplication that may exist between your network and formal records management environments. 
Example: Consistent classification structure
In its implementation, the United Kingdom Debt Management Office used a consistent classification structure for the management of information across a range of different business systems it administered. By using this one structure, information accessibility was improved as users became familiar with the standard structure and therefore knew where to find the information they required. 
Step H: Post implementation review
Step H, the post implementation review, is very important for thesaurus products. Ongoing monitoring can help you to detect changing needs and ongoing maintenance can mean that terms are available at the time they are needed by the business units. Regular reviews can ensure that the thesaurus is still aligned with business needs and goals and with keyword products from State Records. If a thesaurus becomes out of date, people will stop using it.
Reviews should be instituted when there is a major change (for example, a change in functional responsibilities or new legislation). In addition, reviews should be undertaken when it is required to meet your business needs.
For more information about keyword classification and developing a keyword thesaurus read the relevant steps of DIRKS referenced above, and see State Records' Guidelines for Developing a Keyword Thesaurus.
 Peter Benfell, 'An integrated approach to managing electronic records', Records Management Journal, Volume 12, Number 3, 2002, 95-96
 Ibid, 95-96
 Ibid, 96