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Describe / Metadata > Keywords for Data Discovery
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U.S. Geological Survey Data Lifecycle Diagram

Keywords for Data Discovery

Use of terms from a thesaurus can make your data more easily discoverable. They are useful for defining shared context or meaning within and across domains of science.

Keywords in a Thesaurus

Key Points

  • A thesaurus shows the structure and relationships of concepts.
  • Use widely known keywords and tags in your metadata in order to make your data more searchable and discoverable.
  • Use preferred terms and keywords with a thesaurus (e.g., USGS Thesaurus).
  • The USGS Science Data Catalog uses the USGS Thesaurus to support discovery of data.

Keywords help to categorize your data. That allows people and computers to compose lists of datasets that share some important characteristics that are meaningful to other people; your dataset will be included in some of those lists and not others. For more information, visit keywords in metadata.

For more information about the USGS Thesaurus, go to Frequently Asked Questions about the USGS Thesaurus.

Sreenshot of the USGS Theasurus using nonindigenous species example.

How to Use a Thesaurus in your Metadata

When you construct a metadata record for your dataset, use a thesaurus to select your keywords. Keywords that come from a thesaurus support a shared understanding about the context of your data.

A metadata example in FGDC-CSDGM:
Screenshot of a metadata example in FGDC-CSDGM format.

See Describe > Metadata for more information about metadata creation and standards.


  • USGS Thesaurus (For Theme Keywords)

    Description: The USGS Thesaurus is designed as a formal thesaurus with rigid adherence to the hierarchical (BT, NT) term relationships, generic non-hierarchical (RT) relationships, and lead-in term relationships linking non-preferred terms to descriptors either singly (UF) or in a compound USE-WITH relationship. The thesaurus is faceted, meaning its top terms delineate general aspects of information resources. *Go the link below and check "USGS Thesaurus". Click on the right tab then browse through "Sciences" and "Topics"; to view theme keywords for inclusion in metadata.


  • USGS Biocomplexity Thesaurus Project (For Theme Keywords)

    Description: The Biocomplexity Thesaurus Project is a thesaurus of term relationships and definitions in nearly every scientific field. The Biocomplexity Thesaurus serves as a controlled vocabulary for facilitating improved access and retrieval of data and information. Users can query the thesaurus for matching and related terms both specific and broad.


  • ISO Topic Themes (For Theme Keywords)

    Description: The International Organization for Standards (ISO) metadata standard (ISO 19115) provides a set of Core metadata elements that must occur in every national profile/implementation. Most of these elements either map to existing CSDGM metadata elements or represent properties of the data that can be determined and populated using a data integrated metadata tool. Topic Category is the only mandatory element of the ISO core metadata set that requires new information that cannot be directly captured from the data. *Go the link below and check "ISO 19115 Topic Category". Click on the right tab then browse through the topics to view theme keywords for inclusion in metadata.


  • NAL Agricultural Thesaurus (For Theme Keywords)

    Description: The NAL Agricultural Thesaurus (NALT) is annually updated and the 2007 edition contains over 65,800 terms organized into 17 subject categories. NALT is searchable online and is available in several formats (PDF, ASCII text, XML, SKOS) for download from the web site. NALT has standard hierarchical, equivalence and associative relationships and provides scope notes and over 2,400 definitions of terms for clarity. Proposals for new terminology can be sent to Published by the National Agricultural Library, United States. Department of Agriculture.


  • NASA Thesaurus (For Theme Keywords)

    Description: Contains authorized subject terms of the NASA Aeronautics and Space Database for aerospace engineering, and all supporting areas of engineering and physics, the natural space sciences (astronomy, astrophysics, and planetary science), Earth science, and to some extent, the biological sciences. The Thesaurus contains over 18,000 terms, 4,000 definitions, and 4,400 USE references. Terms are organized within a hierarchical structure, and also include "related terms" lists. Edited by the NASA Center for AeroSpace Information (CASI).


  • ETDE/INIS - Department of Energy (For Theme Keywords)

    Description: The Joint Thesaurus contains the controlled terminology for indexing all information within the subject scopes of the International Nuclear Information System (INIS) and the Energy Technology Data Exchange (ETDE). It contains 21,147 valid descriptors and 9,114 forbidden terms.The terminology is intended for use in subject descriptions for input or retrieval of information in these systems. The thesaurus may be revised at any time; please refer to the supplements content for cumulative references for changes made to the initial printing of the thesaurus.


  • Geographic Names Information System (For US Place Names)

    Description: The GNIS contains information about physical and cultural geographic features of all types in the United States, associated areas, and Antarctica, current and historical, but not including roads and highways. The database holds the Federally recognized name of each feature and defines the feature location by state, county, USGS topographic map, and geographic coordinates.


  • NGA GEONet Names Server (For Foreign Place Names)

    Description: The GEOnet Names Server (GNS) is the official repository of standard spellings of all foreign geographic names, sanctioned by the United States Board on Geographic Names (US BGN). The database also contains variant spellings (cross-references), which are useful for finding purposes, as well as non-Roman script spellings of many of these names. All the geographic features in the database contain information about location, administrative division, and quality. The database can be used for a variety of purposes, including establishing official spellings of foreign place names, cartography, GIS, GEOINT, and finding places.


  • Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (For Place Names)

    Description: The TGN includes names and associated information about places. Places in TGN include administrative political entities (e.g., cities, nations) and physical features (e.g., mountains, rivers). Current and historical places are included. TGN is intended to aid cataloging, research, and discovery of art historical, archaeological, and other scholarly information.


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