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Plan terms and term sets (SharePoint Server 2010)


Applies to: SharePoint Server 2010

Managed metadata is a hierarchical collection of centrally managed terms that you can define, and then use as attributes for items in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Before reading this article, you should understand the concepts described in the article Managed metadata overview (SharePoint Server 2010).

Managed metadata and the way that you structure it can affect many parts of your SharePoint Server solution, such as the following:

  • Valid values for columns, and the way users enter these values.

  • The enterprise keywords that users can apply to SharePoint Server 2010 items.

  • The way that search results can be refined.

  • How documents are routed.

  • The workflows that are applied to SharePoint Server items.

  • The ways that users can sort and filter SharePoint Server items.

  • If you are using social tagging, the tags that users can apply to items that are not SharePoint Server items.

In this article:

  • Plan: now or later

  • About planning managed metadata

  • Identify term sets

  • Identify term set owners

  • Determine term set groups

  • Define term sets

  • Managed metadata planning worksheets

Plan: now or later

SharePoint Server 2010 enables you to use managed metadata even if you do not define all the terms and term sets first. You can start without any term sets and merely let users add enterprise keywords to items. As the set of enterprise keywords grows, you will probably want to organize it in some way to make finding and disambiguating keywords easier. At this point, you can create term sets and move some keywords into term sets. You might also want to clean up the terms in the new term set by deleting misspelled words, or indicating that some words are synonyms of other words.

Even if you decide to use the less formal approach of starting with enterprise keywords and creating term sets later, you should understand how to plan and organize managed metadata.

About planning managed metadata

Planning and organizing managed metadata involves the following steps:

  1. Identify term sets.

  2. Identify the owner of each term set.

  3. Determine term set groups.

  4. Define term sets.

The first three tasks are often performed by a group, a solution architect, or a taxonomist. The fourth task, defining term sets, can be distributed to the owners of the term sets.

The Managed metadata planning worksheets section contains links that you can use to download worksheets in which you can record your terms and term sets.


If you rearrange several columns in the detailed term set planning worksheet, you can also use the worksheet to import a term set into SharePoint Server 2010.

This article contains guidance about how to determine the managed metadata that your organization will use. This article does not cover how to divide the metadata among term stores or where you should deploy the services that host the term stores. For information about how to plan your managed metadata services, such as planning where you should store enterprise keywords, see Plan to share terminology and content types (SharePoint Server 2010).

Identify term sets

As you design your solution, you will discover attributes (metadata) that should be associated with certain items in SharePoint Server. You might also implement some of your organization’s governance policies by using metadata. This section provides guidelines for identifying metadata, and explains which metadata should be managed metadata. Each item of managed metadata will be represented by a term set.

First, examine your solution for information that can be represented by metadata. The following table provides suggestions about where you are likely to locate metadata.

Potential metadata Example

Custom columns associated with documents and lists

The confidentiality of a document: public, proprietary, confidential, trade secret, and so on

In cases in which the system or a user might take different actions based on a characteristic of an item, the characteristic itself is probably metadata.

If a request that was submitted by a specific individual is automatically approved, “submitted by” could be metadata.

Common things that users will want to sort or filter items on

If users are likely to filter items by the milestone that the item is associated with, “milestone” could be metadata.

Words or phrases that users are likely to “tag” items with

The subject of an image, such as “company logo” or “product XYZ icon”

“Choice” or “Lookup” columns in an existing SharePoint Server site

Not all metadata is managed metadata, that is, a term set. The following table provides suggestions about when the metadata that you identified is likely to be managed metadata. If it is not clear whether to create a term set for an item of metadata, it is probably best not to create a term set. Instead, monitor the keywords that users add to items, and create a term set if several keywords have been created that would belong in the term set.

If the potential metadata… … is it likely to be managed metadata?

Is something for which a user will select a valid value


Represents information that is likely to be used multiple times


Has valid values that can be organized hierarchically


Includes synonyms or abbreviations that should be aggregated


Can be applied in one language, but might be viewed in other languages


Is represented by a built-in column (such as “last modified date”)


Has an infinite number of valid values


Has different valid values in each location that it is used (such as different values for the “version” attribute depending on which product team’s site the item appears in)

No (or, if it is represented by managed metadata, it can be planned and managed at the site level.)

Has only “yes” and “no” as valid values


Record the term sets in the term sets planning worksheet, and add a brief description of each term set.

Identify term set owners

For each term set, you will have to determine an owner. The owner can then define the terms in the term set.

If the term set will be used across the organization, or if the terms in the term set will be strictly controlled, it is likely that there is already a group that manages the information. This group will probably manage the term set. If the information is not strictly controlled, you might have to nominate a person to own the term set and to periodically clean up the terms.

Record the owner of each term set in the term sets planning worksheet.

Determine term set groups

A term set group is a security boundary. Only a user who is designated a contributor to the group can manage the term sets in the group and create new term sets. However, all users can usually see all term sets. (For information about how to restrict certain users from seeing a term set, see Plan to share terminology and content types (SharePoint Server 2010).)

Organize the term sets into groups based on which users should be able to manage the term sets. If you identified one person as the owner of 25 term sets, perhaps those 25 term sets belong in a single group. If various people own a single term set each, but those people are all in the same department, this might also be a good reason to put the term sets in a single group. It is common to create groups based on the organization structure and let each organization designate a manager for the term set group. The term set group manager can then add people to the contributor role, and these people can manage the term sets that they own.

If there are term sets that some users should be unable to view, assign these term sets to separate groups. For example, if five of the term sets may only be viewed by members of the legal department, make a new term set group and include only these five term sets in the group. You will eventually create different managed metadata service instances for the public and private groups, as described in the article Plan to share terminology and content types (SharePoint Server 2010).

Define term sets

At this point, you have identified an owner for each term set. The owners can follow the rest of this process to define their term sets.

To define a term set, you must answer the following questions:

  • What are the terms in the term set?

  • How should the terms be organized?

  • Who should be permitted to add terms to the term set?

Use the guidance in the following sections to define and organize the terms, and to determine whether the term set is open or closed. Record the term sets and descriptions in the detailed term set planning worksheet.

Identify the terms

Identify the terms in the term set. If you want to allow the multiple terms to represent the same concept (for example, “XYZ version 2” and “XYZ v2” might be alternate names for the same product), include both terms. Identify one term as the primary term, and indicate that the second term is a synonym of the first term.

Organize the terms

The primary organizing principle for a term set should be ease of navigation. End users will often interact with a term set by selecting one of the terms in the term set. Therefore, you should organize the term set to make it easy for users to find the correct term without too much scrolling. This suggests a hierarchical structure.


Because you can specify a custom sort order for a term set (for example, “Wednesday” should be presented before “Thursday,” even though that is not alphabetical order), you do not have to be concerned about the order in which you list the terms.

You can nest terms to a maximum of seven levels deep. Because you can declare a term to be “unavailable for tagging” (that is, a term that the user cannot select), you have flexibility in how you organize the hierarchy, as illustrated in the examples that are provided in the worksheets.

The following suggestions might help you decide how to structure a term set.

  • In a well-understood domain, there is likely to be a standard organization. For example, the terms in a term set that represented sales offices might be organized using a geographic hierarchy. The first level terms could be thought of as continents. The second level terms would then be countries. The third level terms would be provinces within each country. The fourth level terms would be the cities in which the offices were located. Because the term set represents sales offices, only the fourth level of terms would be available for tagging.

  • Are there already well known ways that information is organized in your organization? For example, does the folder structure on a file share represent the way that most people would organize information? Is the navigation structure of your intranet portal useful for finding information? You can refer to these examples of how information is currently structured as you organize your term set.


    Think carefully before you use your organization’s internal structure to organize a term set. If your company reorganized next week, would you also have to reorganize the term set? Is the benefit worth the effort?

  • If the terms in the term set are merely a list that has no clear method of organization, consider organizing them alphabetically. Make the letters of the alphabet the first-level terms, and make the terms themselves the second-level terms. If the term set is too large for that structure, you could create a second level of alphabetical organization (for example, “AA – AF”, “AG – AI”, “AJ – AR”, and “AS – AZ”), and include the terms themselves at the third level. The terms in the levels that are merely for alphabetizing would be marked as unavailable for tagging.

Identify who can add terms

Anyone can add a new term to an open term set. Only people who have been identified as contributors to a term set group can add terms to a closed term set in the group. For example, a term set that represents cost centers would probably be closed. A term set that represents contributors to a charity might be open.

Record the details of each term set in a separate copy of the detailed term set planning worksheet.

Managed metadata planning worksheets

Download an Excel version of the Term sets planning worksheet (

Download an Excel version of the Detailed term set planning worksheet (

See Also


Managed metadata overview (SharePoint Server 2010)
Plan to import managed metadata (SharePoint Server 2010)
Plan to share terminology and content types (SharePoint Server 2010)
Managed metadata roles (SharePoint Server 2010)

Other Resources

Resource Center: Managed Metadata and Taxonomy in SharePoint Server 2010