There are four assignments in this course: a set of three reflective essays, design of a schema for describing a set of objects, design of a small subject classification, and a final reflection.

Assignment Due Date
Reflective essays 24 hours before the start of class on weeks 2, 3, and 4 (that is, January 25, Feb. 1, and Feb. 8)
Descriptive schema March 9, at the beginning of class
Subject classification April 27, at the beginning of class
Final reflection May 4, at the beginning of class.

The reflective essays should be e-mailed to the instructor at You can use Microsoft Word, PDF, or RTF formats (I prefer the Word 2004-compatible .doc format, but Word 7 .docx format is acceptable). Please use your last name as the filename (for example, if your last name is Patel, you would name your assignment file Patel.doc).

The descriptive schema, classification, and final reflection should be printed and brought to class.

Late assignments are not acceptable. For each day that an assignment is late, ten percent of the possible points will be deducted from the score (that is, if the descriptive schema, worth 30 points, is one day late, the maximum number of points for the late assignment is 27). Students who anticipate difficulties with completing assignments on time should consult with the instructor as soon as possible.

Reflective essays

The first weeks of the course focus on conceptual foundations of information organization. These three response essays are intended to help you grapple with the complex nature of some of the initial readings. (A firm understanding of the principles introduced here will facilitate your ability to apply these concepts in the practical realm for the following two assignments.)

Write a brief but trenchant reflection that critically engages one or more of the readings for the week. Your goal is to discuss an idea from the reading in some depth, to engage a "big question" that intrigued or frustrated you, and not to summarize the reading. (Summaries that don’t include critical reflection will be marked down.) Each reflection should be a cohesive document that expresses and supports an argument, not merely a collection of random thoughts or musings.

These essays could be an opportunity to translate general concepts to the information science domain, to explore implications for work practice, to extend or criticize an argument from the reading, and so on. For example, a reflective essay on the Baxandall reading might consider how what he says about painting applies to the creation of image metadata. But the actual focus and structure of the essays is left up to you.

Approximate length: 500 words each.

For submission, please remember to include your name on your essay.

Grading criteria

A successful essay will exhibit these characteristics:

  • Thoughtful, creative consideration of a significant issue as inspired by assigned readings. A successful essay will not simply assert that a particular aspect of a reading was interesting or difficult to understand, for example; it will interrogate what makes the idea interesting or difficult, perhaps considering how the idea might be applied in different contexts, what makes the idea challenging to translate into practice, and so on.
  • Active engagement with one or more assigned readings. A successful essay won't merely discuss, for example, categorization and language in the abstract; it will reference what Reddy, Lakoff, or Winograd and Flores say about categorization and language and ground its arguments as a response to their work.
  • Logical structure, clear writing, and correct grammar and punctuation.

Descriptive schema

In this assignment, you will define a set of entities, articulate a motivating purpose for describing them, and then outline a structure of attributes and associated values to systematically represent your entities as metadata. You will use your defined attribute set to create metadata for five varied instances of entities in your set.

Assignment details

First, you will define a group of entities to describe. You are not limited to written texts. Some examples here might be:

  • Hill country hiking trails.
  • Austin taquerias.
  • Photos from my vacation to Iceland.
  • Zombie movies.
  • Missouri wineries.
  • Knitting patterns.
  • Books, articles, and Web resources for information architecture.

Via e-mail, submit your idea for a group of entities by Friday, February 5 for instructor approval.

In your description, give a sense of the range of possible instances that would fit into your set. For example, is a photo in the airport an acceptable instance of Iceland vacation photo? Is an establishment that serves burritos but no tacos an acceptable instance of taqueria? Thinking about border cases will help you create attributes that apply equally to all members of your set of entities.

Next, you will articulate a purpose and associated target audience to motivate your description. For example, you might want to share your Iceland photos with your travel club, or you might want to advance the cause of Icelandic hegemony throughout the world. You might want to help novice knitters find patterns that make nice gifts, or you might want to promote the cause of Missouri wine with relatively sophisticated, and potentially skeptical, drinkers. You can see how each situation might suggest a different set of attributes for the same entity set.

You will then articulate a set of 10-15 attributes to define your entities in support of the purpose. You will label and describe each attribute in sufficient detail so that an outside indexer could assign values for entities of the type that you have described. For each attribute, you will set parameters for acceptable values and provide guidelines that show how values should be expressed. (You might base this portion of the assignment on Diane Hillman’s element descriptions for Dublin Core, although you are not required to use her format. Hillman’s descriptions are assigned reading for Week 6.)

Once you have sufficiently defined your attributes, use the structure that you have developed to preliminarily describe five instances to represent both prototypical and border cases of your entity set. If there are cases where you are unable to satisfactorily describe an instance, use this as an opportunity to revise the schema and clarify your attribute definitions. (You might even need to clarify the boundaries of your group of entities and sharpen its description.) Then use your revised schema to create five final descriptions for your entity instances.

Finally, write a brief critical reflection on your design process and resulting product. You might discuss questions such as the following:

  • As you designed your initial attribute set, how did you ensure that your attributes contributed to your defined purpose for description? If this process was difficult, what made it so?
  • How did your schema change, if at all, following the initial test? What necessitated the changes, and why weren't you able to anticipate these issues in advance?
  • Did your perception of your group of entities change after attempting to describe the five instances? How did your conception of this set change, and what caused your perspective to shift?
  • Do you feel like your final schema represents the group of entities well? Why or why not?
  • What was difficult about this design project?What might you keep in mind for subsequent metadata design projects?

Note: These are examples of questions that you might discuss. To create a concise yet cohesive paper, you will need to concetrate on a few design issues of particular relevance to your project. Do not merely answer the questions here.


Your final assignment should include:

  • A set of instructions for an outside indexer to use in adding descriptions of new instances to the set of records that you have already created. These instructions should include the following two elements:
    • A few paragraphs to describe your group of entities, your purpose for describing them, and how your defined attributes work to facilitate the purpose.
    • Your attribute descriptions, value parameters, and associated guidelines for using the schema to describe the entities. The description for each attribute should follow a consistent format. (You can use something similar to Hillman or devise your own format. You may use tables if you wish.)
  • Your descriptions of five instances. Use a consistent format for each record (perhaps a table for each instance).
  • Your critical reflection. This should be written in narrative form, as a cohesive paper of 750-1000 words.

Grading criteria

A successful assignment will exhibit these characteristics:

• The reader understands what constitutes a member of the defined set, who makes up the audience, and the goals associated with the purpose.

  • The defined attributes effectively represent the selected entities in the context of the described purpose, and the value space effectively represents the extent of the attributes. For example, when describing yoga poses for students, an attribute that indicates level of difficulty might be appropriate. However, such an attribute might seem less appropriate if describing yoga poses in relation to the history of Hindu thought and culture. In addition, the values described for the difficulty attribute should encompass the full range of possibilities at an appropriate level of detail for the audience and purpose.
  • The attribute descriptions, value parameters, and associated guidelines can be easily understood by outside indexers and applied to describe actual entities accurately and comprehensively within the context of the selected purpose. It is clear how to apply the descriptive schema to both standard and border cases.
  • The descriptions of entity instances follow the created definitions and guidelines accurately and represent a range of potential entities, from prototypical examples to less common ones that stretch the potential definition of the entity set.
  • The critical reflection thoughtfully evaluates the design process, product, or both, using the experience of creating the descriptive schema to productively engage larger issues of theory and practice (that is, the reflection does not merely summarize the design process or product; it interrogates it).
  • The assignment follows a logical document structure, is clearly written, and uses correct grammar and punctuation.

Subject classification

You will define, label, and relate a set of 30-40 concepts to serve as a means of organizing documents. Your classification will elucidate the conceptual landscape for a single subject area, which you will select.

Assignment details

First, you will select a subject area that you will represent in your classification. Because your set of categories will be small, this should be something quite specific, such as:

  • Veganism.
  • Javanese gamelan music tradition.
  • Scuba diving.
  • Costume design.
  • Nuclear power.
  • Bicycle commuting.
  • Artisanal bread baking.
  • Information retrieval.

Via e-mail, submit your idea for a subject area by Friday, March 26 for instructor approval.

Next, even if you are an expert in the subject area that you selected, do some basic research. Look at a variety of documents in the subject area and see what they include and how they differ. This should give you a better sense of your subject area and its extent. Based on this research, you might need to define your subject area more narrowly (for example, concentrating on ecofeminism as one type of feminist theory). You should also at this point articulate a purpose and associated user group for your classification. You might create a classification to organize documents on veganism in order to help persuade current meat eaters to become vegans, for example, or you might alternately create a veganism classification for current vegans that focuses on making the most out of the vegan lifestyle. In other words, your audience and purpose will help you interpret the subject in a specific way, which you will then represent in a system of related categories. (Or you can say that your selection of an audience and purpose, in combination with your research into the subject literature, will help form the “semantic warrant” of your classification.) Write a few paragraphs to describe your intended audience, associated purpose, and resulting interpretation of the subject. This will help you as you develop and shape the classification.

Now, create a system of 30-40 related categories to represent the subject. You might begin generating potential classes by looking through documents in your subject area to “harvest” concepts as “source material.” (This is a bottom-up approach.) Or you might begin by defining some top-level categories in advance and working downwards (a top-down approach).

Relate your categories in one or more hierarchies. (You might choose a truly synthetic, faceted approach, as discussed in Week 10, but this is not a requirement.) You will need to manipulate your categories, aggregating, splitting, rearranging, and relabeling them, in order to generate a cohesive structure. Pay attention to the order within sibling categories at any particular level; you should have a reason for each arrangement. You may choose to relate categories associatively (across hierarchies) if you like.

You can represent the classification any way that makes sense to you: indented text is fine as long as the levels are clear. You can also use diagrams.

It is recommended that you attend the instructor’s office hours to discuss your classification draft. Extra office hours will be available during the week of April 13 for this purpose.

After you have the classified structure established, you will create an alphabetical list of the categories in your classification. For each category, you will provide a brief definition and, where warranted, a usage note that clarifies what kinds of resources should be assigned to the category. For example, a veganism classification for current vegans, designed to increase community, might note that resources that discuss health risks associated with veganism should be classed under “establishment propaganda.” As you proceed, you may wish to test your structure and associated documentation by attempting to classify a variety of documents in the subject area.

You will also write an introduction to the classification that briefly describes your subject area in general, along with your target audience, intended purpose, and associated interpretation of the subject. Your introduction should include brief guidelines for using the classification: can resources be assigned to multiple categories, for example?

Finally, you will write a concise critical reflection on your design process and resulting product. In writing this, you might consider questions such as:

  • How did you determine when a potential category was a likely candidate to be included in the classification?
  • What led you to decide on the structural implementation that you ended up with?
  • Does your resulting classification seem complete and consistent? Why or why not?
  • What might you do differently in your next classification design project?

As with the descriptive schema assignment, these are examples of questions that you might discuss. To create a concise yet cohesive paper, you will need to concetrate on a few design issues of particular relevance to your project. Do not merely answer the questions here.


Your final assignment should include:

  • The classification introduction, which describes the subject area in general; the target audience, intended purpose, and associated interpretation of the subject to be represented in this classification; guidelines for assigning resources to categories.
  • The classified structure, which shows all the categories that you created and their relationships.
  • An alphabetical representation of each category, with an associated definition and, where appropriate, a usage note.
  • Your critical reflection. This should be written in narrative form, as a cohesive paper of 750-1000 words.

Grading criteria

A successful classification will exhibit the following characteristics:

  • The introduction succinctly articulates a clear and forceful case for the selected subject interpretation and summarizes, in a way understandable to outside indexers, general principles by which the interpretation is to be implemented via placing resources within the assembled categories.
  • The classified stucture persuasively represents the subject according to the selected interpretation, via a cohesive strategy for including, naming, and arranging categories.
  • For each category, the alphabetical structure adequately clarifies, through definitions and usage notes, how the interpretation is to be supported through the assignment of resources to the category.
  • After reading the introduction, classified structure, and alphabetical structure, an outside indexer should be able to accurately assign resources to the established categories, so that the selected interpretation maintained and solidified.
  • The critical reflection engages the design process and product as a means to illuminating areas of both theory and practice (that is, it examines and evaluates the process and product, instead of simply summarizing them).
  • The assignment follows a logical document structure, is clearly written, and uses correct grammar and punctuation.

Final reflection

What does a poet’s discussion of Dutch still-life painting have to do with anything? Mark Doty’s meditation Still Life with Oysters and Lemon, the final assigned reading, touches on a number of the ambiguities that make information organization and representation so fascinatingly complex and thus provides a rich ground from which to look back over the course. For this assignment, write an essay according to one of the following options:

  • Doty is distressed at returning to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and discovering that van Heem’s painting has been both moved and relabeled. Describing the picture differently and placing it differently as regards other objects in the collection makes the picture seem different, although of course it hasn’t actually changed. What does this inevitable interpretive aspect of organization and representation mean for how we design, describe resources with, and use information organization systems?
  • Select your own theme, episode, or image from Doty’s essay and use it as a catalyst to explore a concept of particular significance for you from throughout the course.

As appropriate in your essay, refer to additional assigned readings, concepts from class lecture and discussion, and your experiences in designing the descriptive schema and subject classification.

Approximate length: 1250-1500 words

Grading criteria

A successful final reflection will exhibit the following characteristics:

  • The essay presents a thoughtful, creative engagement with the themes from Doty's work.
  • The essay refers to other material from the class (readings, assignments, class lectures and discussion) as appropriate, showing the ability to not only comprehend the identified topics, but to synthesize and comment upon them.
  • The assignment follows a logical document structure, is clearly written, and uses correct grammar and punctuation.