Strategy for Building Taxonomies for User Assistance

In today’s fast paced environment, it is no longer sufficient to simply deliver user assistance to your customers. As the expectations and the needs of the customer for ease of consumption of the information has significantly increased, it is of highest importance for each technical communicator to be able to optimize the content for search, retrieval and consumption.

How do we achieve that? One way to optimize the content is to use existing metadata or define new sets of metadata. The metadata is than used for classification of the content. Once the content is being classified, it can be used in different scenarios for search and retrieval.

As simple as this sounds, the actual process of gathering existing metadata, organizing and representing it in a meaningful way, defining scenarios in which this metadata will be valuable and identifying new metadata needed in those scenarios is quite a lot of work. It requires a whole new level of expertise and a different point of view towards user assistance offered to the customers.

Luckily, the field of defining and building classifications of metadata is already well studied and researched. It provides a solid ground on which we, as technical communicators, can build our understanding of the way the user assistance assets can be expressed. We can simply start with a set of world-recognized and acknowledged standards for metadata, such as Dublin Core (DC). Then, we can build on top of if to extend it further with helpful and meaningful metadata.

Of course, this metadata needs to be expressed in a way that most people can relate to, as well as machines can consume. Such a vehicle that we can use to represent the information about the classified assets is the taxonomy we create and use for classification of this asset. A taxonomy can be constructed by the technical communicators. Taxonomies allow us to represent our specific point of view towards a given asset, letting us have a common metadata model that all the users of this asset can understand and relate to.

To create such a taxonomy, you need to have crystal clear understanding on each metadata element that should become a part of your taxonomy.

A strategy that you can apply consists of the following steps:

  • Identify already existing metadata
  • Identify scenarios you want to support
  • Build a taxonomy using the existing metadata
  • Identify missing metadata in your taxonomy that is needed to support your scenarios
  • Add the missing metadata
  • Classify the assets with the additional metadata
  • Use the metadata to achieve your scenario goals

Identifying Metadata

Metadata is data about data. For user assistance, this means that to identify your metadata, you shall follow a systematic approach that collects all relevant sources of data for your assets. This data should be able to answer at least the following questions:

  • Metadata: what is the metadata in question; define it; name it; give examples.
  • Current location: where can this metadata be found at present.
  • Scenario enabled: in which scenario do we use this metadata already.
  • Who owns it: who is the owner of this metadata that can control it or change it.
  • Who governs it: what is the governance body or person that oversees this metadata.
  • Who should own it: is the correct owner in charge or it should be someone else? Who exactly and why?
  • Who should govern it? is the correct governance body in charge or it should be someone else? Who exactly and why?
  • Where should it be stored? Is the metadata stored in the most optimal place? Where?
  • In which scenario do we use it? Where do we use this metadata? In which processes, procedures and scenarios. Provide examples and information on these processes.
  • Generic search engine optimization (SEO) based on metadata. You needed to be very specific on which search engine you want to optimize your content for using metadata, as some search engine may punish you for using metadata or simply ignore it.
  • Faceted search based on your taxonomy. Allows you to bring the user experience with finding your user assistance assets to a whole new level. Nobody knows your user assistance better than you, so you can efficiently guide your users through it based on faced search.
  • You can show it to bring common understanding of your metadata model.
  • You can use taxonomy to exchange the metadata model across different metadata repositories.
  • You can use the taxonomy for classification of your content, if you content management system (CMS) supports it.
  • You can pass the taxonomy to a machine learning algorithm as the information that is needed by the machine to build knowledge for your assets.
  • You can pass your taxonomy to an application that uses it in particular scenarios – SEO, faceted search, navigation visualization (hierarchy trees for navigation, breadcrumbs, and so on).

Identify Scenarios

The scenarios that you want to support with metadata are the most important aspects of the whole processes. There are obvious scenarios that you can immediately consider, as well as new scenarios that you can identify and use as your competitive advantage to other companies in the World. The most common scenarios are:

Build Taxonomy

Having all your needed metadata and clarity for the scenario in which it is to be used, allows you now to build your taxonomy. Take each of the metadata categories that need to be a part of your metadata model and construct a meaningful taxonomy. This taxonomy can be later on used for the following purposes:

Deliver Visible Results

Once you have established your taxonomy and defined the scenarios, just go for it and bring real value to your customers!

For more information, see