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Thesaurus Help

Refer to the different sub-sections below for more information about terminology used on this site, an overview of the site's structure, and search tips.


Descriptor = a noun, gerund or a phrase containing a noun or gerund that can be used for indexing purposes.

Indexing language = "A controlled set of terms selected from natural language and used to represent, in summary form, the subjects of documents." (Source: ISO 2788, 1986)

Non-descriptor = a noun, gerund or a phrase containing a noun or gerund that cannot be used for indexing purposes; instead, it provides an additional entry point to a descriptor.

Preferred Term = Another way to refer to descriptors.

Non-preferred Term = Another way to refer to non-descriptors.

Thesaurus = "The vocabulary of a controlled indexing language, formally organized so that the a priori relationships between concepts (for example as "broader" and "narrower") are made explicit." (Source: ISO 2788, 1986)


The Terms section provides an alphabetical listing of all terms in the Thesaurus, both descriptors and non-descriptors. Descriptors are indicated in regular font, while non-descriptors are indicated in italics. Scope notes are also displayed in the Terms section, when available for a term.

Terms are organized by language: English, French, Spanish

Select a term to view an individual record.


The Classes section displays the classification scheme of the thesaurus. It allows users to browse by broad subject area, review sub-sections within a particular subject, then select a term to go to an individual record. Only descriptors are included in the Classes section.

Classes are organized by language: English, French, Spanish

Individual records

The record for a descriptor provides the following information: the descriptor in the language selected, the equivalent descriptors in other languages, the class code assigned to the term, the scope note (if available), and the broader, narrower and related term relationships (if available). It will also reference any non-descriptor for which the term should be used.

Selecting a non-descriptor will lead the user to the record for the preferred descriptor, with a USE reference displayed at the top.

A number of records include a "Cascade" option; this allows users to view a more detailed tree displaying the Narrower Term (NT) relationships for a given descriptor.


A search facility is available for searching in the "Terms" section. Two search options are provided: Quick Search and Advanced Search.

To perform a Quick Search, simply enter terms in any language into the search box. If you tick the "Search for whole words only" box, the system will automatically locate plurals and other variations of singular words (e.g., entering "state" with the tick box checked will locate "states," "stateless," "statelessness," etc.). If you do not tick the box, the system will only locate the matches for the term as entered (e.g., "state").

Advanced Search allows you to search by "Term" and/or by "Language." You can qualify your Term search by indicating whether the term "contains," "is exactly," "begins with," or "is not" another term(s). A Language search can only be qualified by "is exactly" or "is not."

The Advanced Search form can be expanded by clicking on the + sign. Each occurrence of the search can then be connected via Boolean operator: and, or, not.


Enter this search to locate occurrences of "convention" or "conventions" that are not in French.

Step 1: Select "Term" and "Begins with" from the drop-down lists, then type "convention" into the search box. Your search criteria on the first line of the Advanced Search form are now: Term begins with convention.

Step 2: Click on the + sign to expand the Advanced Search form.

Step 3: Select "and" from the "and or not" options that are now visible.

Step 4: Select "Language," "Is not" and "French" from the drop-down lists. Your search criteria on the second line of the Advanced search form are now: Language is not French.

Step 5: Click on "Advanced Search" to submit your search.

Note: The system will retrieve accented equivalents for non-accented search terms - e.g., it will search for "réfugiés" if "refugies" is entered. You may also type in diacritics, if you prefer. If your keyboard does not permit you to do so, please refer to http://www.starr.net/is/type/altnum.htm for instructions on using ascii codes for this purpose. See a listing of the most commonly used diacritics in French and Spanish.

Search results

After a search has been submitted, you will be presented with a list of both descriptors (in regular font) and non-descriptors (in italics) that match your criteria. The list may span several pages; use the arrows to scroll forward and back . Alternatively, use the A-Z list to jump to a set of results beginning with a particular letter.

Click on a term to view an individual record.

If a search was particularly complex to enter, you have the option to save the search criteria from the search results page. To do so, simply click on the diskette icon in the upper right corner, and assign a name to the search you wish to save in the popup that appears. The next time you select the "Search" option from the navigation menu, you will notice that a secondary "Load" option is now visible. If you select this option, you will be presented with a summary of previous searches conducted. Click on the one you wish to repeat and the search will be run automatically for you.

You also have the option to modify your search criteria if you are not satisfied with the results. To do so, click on the pencil icon in the top right corner and you will be returned to the search page with your most recent search criteria displayed.