Describing information

For information to be discoverable, it needs to be described. We do this by adding metadata and using tools for controlled vocabularies such as:

  • thesauri
  • glossaries
  • taxonomies
  • ontologies
  • thematic lists
  • data dictionaries

Describing information accurately using agreed standards is essential for information, data and records management. It helps users understand:

  • what the records are
  • where they came from
  • their history
  • their relationships to other information assets

All APS staff who create records are responsible for describing information. The National Archives sets standards for this process and helps agencies achieve them.

Why describe information

The more consistent and accurate the description, the more likely the right information can be found quickly, reused, shared and managed.

Describing information enables users to:

  • identify individual information objects
  • differentiate one information object from another
  • search for information they have created and saved
  • create topical lists of records or data sets

Describing information makes it possible for future users to:

  • find the information when they need it
  • understand why it was created, by whom and when
  • determine the controls under which it can be used

How information is described

We can describe individual items and objects like a single document, a photograph, a film or an audio recording.

We can also describe aggregations of information like data sets, records files, collections of pictures, or even a crate full of soil samples.


This descriptive information is captured as metadata.

Useful and relevant descriptive metadata for information and records management uses:

Metadata standards

National Archives endorses the Australian Government Recordkeeping Metadata Standard (AGRkMS) for information and records management in Australian Government.

To support the implementation of AGRkMS, the National Archives created the minimum metadata set.

Functions Thesaurus

When describing information, you need to define the relevant terms and classifications. A tool we use for this is the functions thesaurus.

A functions thesaurus is a controlled alphabetic list of function terms presented as a hierarchy.

A functions thesaurus:

  • covers terminology relating to agencies’ unique or core business functions and activities
  • can provide classification to 3 or 4 levels, allowing for comprehensive business information classification

In the Australian Government, we use the Australian Governments' Interactive Functions Thesaurus (AGIFT) as a classification tool so that resources are easier to discover.

AGIFT describes the high-level business functions carried out across federal, state and local governments in Australia.

AGIFT contributes to the discovery of online government information and services by:

  • providing standard terms for government agencies to use in the 'Function' element of the AGLS metadata element set
  • helping users search government entry points when they are not sure about which terms to use or which level of government is responsible for the information or service they require
  • providing a framework for government agencies to develop a more detailed agency-based functional thesaurus for their own classification needs

AGIFT is also provided as a linked data platform that can be used to aid interoperability by linking Government datasets from different sources.