Section 7
Scope Notes

The most common type of guide to applying terms in a thesaurus is the scope note. A scope note is normally preceded by the notation SN.

Scope notes take a variety of forms.

Definitions in Scope Notes

A scope note may be a definition; for example,
SPACE ERROR
SN TENDENCY TO BE BIASED BY THE SPATIAL POSITION OF STIMULI IN RELATION TO THE OBSERVER

Form of Definitions in Scope Notes

A definition in a scope note should apply to the noun form, not to a related verb or adjective.

For example, this scope note for "INDEXING"

SN TO ASSIGN NATURAL LANGUAGE TERMS TO DOCUMENTS
should be changed to
SN ASSIGNING OF NATURAL LANGUAGE TERMS TO DOCUMENTS

Content of Definitions in Scope Notes

A thesaurus term should have a single meaning. Any definitions in the term's scope note should reflect that meaning.

For example, this scope note for "ACCENT"

SN STRESS PLACED ON A SYLLABLE; VARIATION IN PRONUNCIATION DUE TO LINGUISTIC BACKGROUND
is incorrect because it confuses two different meanings of the term.

Including Concepts with Scope Notes

A scope note may indicate a concept that is included in the scope of the term; for example,
MECHANIZED INFORMATION RETRIEVAL
SN INCLUDES PRE-COMPUTER METHODS, SUCH AS PUNCHED CARD SYSTEMS

Excluding Concepts with Scope Notes

A scope note may indicate a concept that is excluded from the scope of the term.

This may be done to show that the term has a narrower meaning than some users of the thesaurus might have in mind; for example,

BEARS
SN DOES NOT INCLUDE PANDAS

It may also be done to draw attention to an excluded meaning of an ambiguous term; for example,

PARTIES
SN POLITICAL PARTIES ONLY. DO NOT USE FOR SOCIAL GATHERINGS

References to Other Terms in Scope Notes

Some scope notes refer to other terms, especially to indicate how to deal with a concept that is excluded; for example,
LICENSING
SN EXCLUDES ASPECTS COVERED BY THE TERMS 'SCHOOL ACCREDITATION' AND 'TEACHER ACCREDITATION'

Additional Instructions in Scope Notes

A scope note may give additional instructions to indexers. For example, it may remind indexers of other types of terms that they should assign:
HOSPITALIZATION
SN ASSIGN ALSO TERMS FOR THE CONDITIONS FOR WHICH PATIENTS WERE HOSPITALIZED, IF APPLICABLE

Suggesting Indexers Consider More Specific Alternatives

A scope note may suggest that the term not be used if a more specific term is appropriate; for example,
EQUIPMENT
SN BROAD TERM. PREFER TERMS SPECIFYING TYPES OF EQUIPMENT IF POSSIBLE; FOR EXAMPLE, 'OFFICE EQUIPMENT'

Instructions for Synthesis

In a synthetic thesaurus, instructions for synthesis may appear in scope notes; for example,
HISTORY
SN APPEND ALSO AS A SUBDIVISION AFTER TERMS DESIGNATING DISCIPLINES, ACTIVITIES, LIVING THINGS, ETC.; FOR EXAMPLE, 'INTERCROPPING - HISTORY', 'GOATS - HISTORY'

Informativeness of Scope Notes

Information included in a scope note should be helpful to users of the thesaurus as indexers or searchers.

It should add to what the term already says by itself. Simply repeating the term or giving an obvious definition of an unambiguous term is not helpful.

Remember that a thesaurus is not a dictionary, an encyclopedia, or even an index.

Form of Scope Notes

Scope notes should be well formed.

They should contain no spelling errors.

Many scope notes do not use complete sentences. You can use noun and verb phrases instead. Nevertheless, the syntax should be correct.

Summary

To sum up, scope notes may
  1. give definitions
  2. indicate which concepts are included or excluded
  3. refer to other terms
  4. provide additional instructions
and they should be
  1. relevant to indexing and searching
  2. well-formed
quiz Quiz on scope notes (requires JavaScript)

Section 6 Section 8Table of Contents Glossary
Last updated January 25, 2008, by Tim Craven
Copyright © 1997 The University of Western Ontario