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3. Editorial Rules, continued






Descriptive Note

Included in this chapter







Descriptive Note


A Note that provides descriptive information about the place or expands upon information recorded in other fields.



A free-text field; use Unicode. In legacy data, diacritics are expressed according to the codes in Appendix A. These codes are also used for characters outside Unicode (e.g., eszett as distinct from double-s). Do not use carriage returns or tabs.



Sources are discussed in a separate section, Sources for Descriptive Note below.






Minimum requirements
Descriptive Note is not required. Balance the number and length of descriptive notes written against your editorial priorities and your daily quota.

  • Descriptive Note is a repeatable field. If there is any Descriptive Note, there should always be a descriptive note in English, but there may be multiple descriptive notes in multiple languages. Each instance of the descriptive note has a contributor and at least one source.

  • As a first priority, make descriptive notes for the most important places for art history and for those places that have outstanding issues or ambiguities.



Topics typically should be structured in the note according to the order below, omitting topics as necessary, depending upon what is important or relevant to the place being described. Topics may include the following:

    • disputed issues, sovereignty, or ambiguity regarding the names or critical facts about the place
    • possible confusion of the place due to its name being a homograph for a nearby place
    • physical description
    • description of its location (do NOT repeat the hierarchy information, but you may mention physical features, etc.)
    • the first habitation of the place
    • its political history, in chronological order
    • its importance relative to other places or to the history of art and architecture
    • for modern nations, include the languages spoken
    • population may be included for inhabited places, provided you cite the date of your source

      • Example
        [for an inhabited place, Siena, Italy]
      • Note: Siena was founded as an Etruscan hill town; later it was the Roman city of Sena Julia (3rd century BCE). It flourished under the Lombard kings (6th century CE) and was a Medieval self-governing commune (constitution dates to 1179). Siena was a Medieval seat of pro-imperial Ghibelline power and was an economic and territorial rival of Guelf (anti-imperial) Florence. The population was ravaged by the Black Death (bubonic plague) in 1348. Siena was ruled by Charles of Anjou in the 13th century, the Visconti of Milan in the early 15th century, and the Medici of Florence after 1557.

  • You may mention one or two works of art or architecture in a city if necessary to make a point, but avoid making a long list of art works or artists for a given place.



Use authoritative sources
All information in the descriptive note must be derived from an authoritative source. A brief list of sources appears below under Sources for Descriptive Note.

  • Cite the source
    It is required to cite your source and page number. See Sources for Descriptive Note below.

  • Plagiarism
    Do not plagiarize: You may paraphrase the information, but do not copy it verbatim.

  • Literary sources
    If information in the note ultimately comes from a literary or mythological source (as opposed to a modern reliable source) be careful not to state it as if it were proven fact (note reference to the Bible in the example below).

      • Example
        [for the lost settlement, Gath, Israel]
      • Note: It was a royal city of the ancient Philistines, although its precise location is unknown. The Bible mentions it as the birthplace of Goliath and a refuge for David, also as the city of the Anakim.

    • Currency of the information: Keep in mind that the descriptive note may not be updated for some time, so do not discuss volatile situations that may change in a few months or years. Instead, situations recorded here should be relatively long-standing.



Be objective
Avoid bias or critical judgment. Express all information in a neutral tone. Do not write from a subjective or biased point of view, even if your source expresses a fact in a subjective way.

  • People, events, art works
    Do not express biased views about rulers, other people, art, architecture, or events. That is, do not express views that are subjectively negative; likewise, do not express positive information in a subjective way. Instead, state views that are held by the scholarly or professional community in an objective way.

    • For example, do not state "The famous and magnificent Temple Z was located here"; instead state "Noted as the location of Temple Z" or, if true, "Noted as the location of Temple Z, which is held to be an important example of ..." Do not state "Was the birthplace of Artist W, a minor painter ..."; instead state "Was the birthplace of the painter, Artist W." Do not state "Was ruled by the wise and benevolent King X ..."; instead state, if true, "Prospered under the rule of King X..." Do not state "Suffered under the tyrannical rule of blood-thirsty Ruler Y"; instead state, if true, "Declined under Ruler Y, whose reign was marked by political dissent..."



  • Political situations
    Do not take sides in a political controversy. When referring to disputed territories or other controversial matters, remain perfectly neutral. When necessary in order to explain an ambiguous situation, state the situation according to the accepted, international point-of-view.

      • Examples
        [for Beijing, China]
        Note: Was the capital of the powerful Mongolian monarchy in the 10th and 12th centuries. It was replaced and reinstalled as the national capital several times over the centuries. It was damaged by occupying European forces in 1860. It was a battleground in the Chinese-Japanese war 1937-1945; the city surrendered to the Communists in 1949.

        [for the nation, Cyprus]
      • Note: The area had Neolithic culture by the 6th millennium BCE. It shares its name and history with the island of the same name. Independent from Britain in 1960, it has undergone armed strife between its Greek and Turkish populations. The northern Turkish part declared itself independent in 1983; United Nations-led talks between the two sides regarding a settlement of the division of the island began in January 2002; a referendum of all Cypriots failed to reach a solution in 2004. The official languages are Greek and Turkish, and English is also widely spoken.

    • The authoritative, published source for this information should be cited in the sources for the descriptive note (in this case, the CIA World Fact Book at

    • Note that political disputes often call for multiple parents (see chapter 3.1 Hierarchical Relationships).



  • Religious and cultural biases
    Avoid using language that expresses biased views about religion or religious groups. Do not state or imply negative or Western-centric views about native peoples.

    • For example, in explaining the colonial history of an area, avoid verbs such as "discovered," which is condescending to the native inhabitants. Instead, use neutral language like "charted," "sighted," "landed," or "visited." For example, do not say "Columbus discovered America by landing at …" but rather "Columbus was the first European to have landed at …"

    • Avoid using terms for that may be considered offensive by groups of people. For example, when speaking of the indigenous populations of the Americas, do not use the term "Indian," which is offensive and also ambiguous, since it more correctly refers to the people of the subcontinent of India, but instead use the name of the tribes. If you don't know the name of the tribe or need to speak in general terms, use "Amerindian" (where appropriate), or "Native American" or "First Nations" (where appropriate; see the AAT for definitions).

      • Examples
        [for the Cayman Islands]
      • Note: The islands were uninhabited when charted by Columbus in 1503, but the Arawaks and Caribs probably had visited here. The name comes from the Spanish "caim$00n", meaning "alligators," though they were really indigenous iguanas. The Spanish and French visited them, then the British settled here in the 17th century and brought Africans as slaves. The official language is English, though Spanish is also widely spoken.

        [for the nation Brazil]
      • Note: Large nation comprising the Amazon basin in the north and the Brazilian plateau in south. The area was inhabited by Tup$00i-Guaran$00i peoples, who were semi-nomadic and lived in scattered settlements, when it was charted by the Portuguese ca. 1500. European colonization began in 1530. The official language is Portuguese.

  • Other situations
    For other cases, search the TGN database for places that may have had a situation similar to the one you wish to describe, and use the descriptive notes in these records as examples.



Uncertainty and ambiguity
Explain any controversies or issues regarding the identification of the place, sovereignty of the place, or any other facts that are in dispute among scholars or experts. If an issue is in dispute, be careful not to express it as a certain fact.

  • Knowable vs. unknowable information
    On the other hand, be careful not to imply that a fact is unknown simply because you happen not to know it (generally because time and editorial priorities do not allow you to do the research required to resolve the issue). If a fact is knowable (but just not known by you), it is generally better to omit it entirely rather than to state it with qualifying phrases such as "probably," because this implies more knowledge of the issue than you have.

  • Disagreement among sources
    Know your sources. When two sources disagree, prefer the information obtained from the most scholarly, authoritative, recent source.



Indexing important information
Caveat: The Descriptive Note is not an access point for retrieval. Therefore, if you mention important information in the Descriptive Note, in order to facilitate retrieval, index it in the appropriate controlled fields elsewhere in the record (e.g., in Names, Place Types, Start and End Dates, Associative Relationships, or alternate Hierarchical Relationships).

  • Explain information indexed elsewhere
    Within the parameters stated above, explain uncertainty, ambiguity, or complexities surrounding information that is linked or indexed in controlled fields. In the example below, the relationship of the place to its parent, the Roman Empire, is explained.

      • Example
        [for Raetia]
      • Note: Ancient Roman province including most of Tirol and Vorarlberg in Austria, Graub$04unden in Switzerland, and parts of Bavaria and Baden-W$04urttemberg in Germany. The native inhabitants were probably of mixed Illyrian and Celtic stock. The area was conquered by Rome in 15 BCE; it was important as a point of communications between parts of the empire. As a frontier province, its boundaries shifted; by 450 only the Alpine regions were controlled by Rome.



  • Display Date notes
    In addition to the Descriptive Note, you may also use the Display Date for Names, Place Types, Hierarchical and Associative relationships to briefly express information or uncertainty. In fact, if the information is directly related to one of these other fields, it should be recorded in a Display Date (and repeated in the Descriptive Note, if necessary). Note that Display Dates may refer to subjects other than date, but must be indexed with Earliest and Latest Dates. See the appropriate section for instructions regarding Display Dates. In the example below, the name is explained in the Descriptive note, but would also be mentioned in the Display Date for Name.

      • Example
        [for Delhi, India]
      • Note: Populated from ancient times; pillaged and rebuilt several times. The current city is the 7th on this site. Indraprastha was built about 1400 BCE under the direction of Yudhisthira, a Pandava king, on a huge mound somewhere between the sites where the historic Old Fort (Purana Qilah) and Humayun's Tomb were later to be located. Although nothing remains of Indraprastha, according to legend it was a thriving city. The first reference to the place name Delhi seems to have been made in the 1st century BCE, when Raja Dhilu built a city near the site of the future Qutb Minar and named it for himself. The city reached its height in the 13th century under the Sultanate of Delhi; it was beautified by Shah Jahan in the 1630s. Later, was under Maratha and British control. New Delhi to the south is the official national capital.

        [for a variant name in the record for Delhi]
      • Name: Dhilli (H,V,N)
        Display Date: this and similar names may derive from name of Raja Dhilu, a king who reigned in 1st century BCE


When to include a descriptive note

  • Large or important places
    It is recommended to record descriptive notes for the largest places, best known places, and places important to art history and archaeology. For other places, it is optional.

      • Examples
        [for Chicago, Illinois, USA]
      • Note: Located on post-glacial plain beside Lake Michigan, noted for extremes in climate. Site was visited by the French in the 17th century; it was a fur-trading post, then an Army post. It great expanded greatly in 19th century due to its strategic position; was a center of transportation and industry. Much of the city was destroyed by fire in 1871, and rebuilt. It is noted as the birthplace of an important architectural development, the steel-frame skyscraper.

        [for Chartres, France]
      • Note: Chartres is the capital of Eure-et-Loir d$00epartement, located in northwestern France, southwest of Paris, on the left bank of the Eure River. It is noted for the important Gothic cathedral, Notre-Dame, dating from the mid-13th century; it replaced a 12th-century church. Also noted for the Church of Saint-Pierre, mainly built in the 13th century. Chartres was sold to the king of France in 1286, but the English occupied it for 15 years during the Hundred Years War. It was raised to the rank of a duchy in 1528. Thrived as one of the pilgrimage sites on route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, home of the shrine dedicated to Saint James, the patron saint of Spain; French pilgrimage routes to Compostela tended to follow old Roman roads, many of which continued to be utilized as primary roads of communication during the Middle Ages. Modern Chartres has agricultural industries which include fertilizers and farm equipment.

  • Nations
    Do not edit existing Descriptive Notes for nations or dependent states; if you feel such a note should be edited, consult with your supervisor. If you are doing a special project to create historical nations or empires, you may write Descriptive Notes for these places.


  • Uncertain identification of the place
    If the identity of the place is in question, describe the issue.

      • Example
        [for a deserted settlement, Machupicchu, Peru]
      • Note: Located on a high ridge between two sharp peaks, Machu Picchu (Old Peak) and Huayna Picchu (New Peak), overlooking Urubamba river valley. It was formerly believed to be Tampu Tocco, "lost city of the Incas," but now is generally thought to have been the royal retreat of Inca emperor Pachacuti. It declined after the Spanish Conquest. The site was brought to the attention of scholars by archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911.

  • Other uncertain information
    If dates, place types, or other indexed information is uncertain, you may explain it in the Descriptive Note.

  • Homographs
    In general, the hierarchy of places with names that are homographs will suffice to disambiguate them. However, if two places are near each other and have the same or very similar names, and thus could cause confusion for the end-user, explain how the two places are distinct.

      • Example
        [for Naco, Mexico]
        Note: Located on the border of Sonora state, Mexico and Arizona state, USA; another town of the same name is located on the United States' side of the border.

  • Coextensive entities
    Explain the relationships between two entities that are coextensive (e.g., when a physical feature such as an island is coextensive with an administrative entity). Such entities are sometimes treated as a single entity and described in a single record. Generally make two records, except when following the precedent of other records in the same section of the hierarchy. If making separate records, link them through associative relationships (see 3.6 Associative Relationships).

      • Examples
        [for Anguilla, dependent state, one record for island and colony]
      • Note: The island and colony of the same name are coextensive. Columbus sighted it in 1493. Settled by the English in 1659, it rebelled against British rule as a member of the Saint Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla federation 1967-1969, but returned to direct British rule in 1971. The official language is English.

        [for the Okinawa, Japan, separate records for region and prefecture]
        Note: Region comprising the southern Ryukyu islands, the largest of which is Okinawa island. The region is coextensive with the prefecture of the same name.

  • Rivers and mountain ranges
    Include a descriptive note to describe the course of major rivers and mountain ranges (see also example for Himalayas above).
      • Example
        [for the Danube river]
      • Note: A major European river, flowing 1,770 miles from Germany to the Black Sea, it has been an important route for settlement, invasion and trade for millennia. The surrounding valley was home to Illyrians, Thracians, Cimmerians, and Celts, and the river was vital to succeeding cultures also.

  • Island groups
    As necessary for clarity, include a descriptive note to explain in general terms the relationships between major island groups and islands, even though islands should also have a hierarchical relationship (as children) to the island group.

      • Example
        [for the Virgin Islands]
        Note: Comprises around 100 islands, located where the Greater and Lesser Antilles meet. The group is divided politically between Britain and the United States. Islands were initially inhabited by Arawaks, then by Caribs. It was sighted by Columbus in 1493. The islands were claimed at various times by the French, Danes, and Dutch.


The note should be brief and concise. The descriptive note is intended to touch upon the major relevant points; it is not a comprehensive encyclopedia entry.

  • A minimum note may be one or two lines of text.

  • Do not write notes longer than 250 words (or 1500 characters with spaces, or 25 lines in the VCS Note window).

    • Even though the Descriptive Note could, according to the database limitations, contain up to 4000 characters, it is contrary to editorial policy to write long, compendious notes. If you feel you must write a note significantly longer than 1500 characters, consult with your supervisor.


Note that many Descriptive Notes in TGN do not follow the currently approved style because they originated in the old editorial system, in which size limitations on the Note forced editors to use abbreviations and phrases rather than sentences.

  • If you are editing a TGN record with such a note, and if time and editorial priorities allow, edit the note to comply with the current stylistic guidelines.
  • Complete sentences
    The note need not be written in complete sentences, although complete sentences are recommended when necessary to unambiguously convey meaning.

    • Follow all other grammatical rules for standard English composition.

      • Example
        [for historical Flanders]
      • Note: Area in western Europe in modern Belgium (Oost-Vlaanderen and West-Vlaanderen provinces) and France (Nord and Pas-de-Calais departments). Comprises a small area, but historically it was densely populated and productive, with important seaports and occupying a central position in Europe. It was a Medieval principality in the southwestern Low Countries. Its broadest boundaries include the lands of Philip the Good (died 1467), Charles the Bold (died 1477), and Charles V (died 1558).

  • Capitalization and Punctuation
    Write the note in mixed case (not all upper or all lower case). Use Unicode. Legacy data and characters outside Unicode (e.g., eszett as distinct from double-s) are represented with codes for diacritics in Appendix A.

    • In general: The first word of the descriptive note should begin with an uppercase letter. The note should end with a period. If you use complete sentences, each sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with a period. The semi-colon should be used to separate phrases.

      • Examples
        [for the US state, Indiana]
      • Note: Originally inhabited by Mound Builders; when Europeans arrived, Algonquian-speaking Miami Confederation, Potowatomi, and Delaware, lived here; claimed by French in the 17th century, by British in 1763, and by the colonists in the Revolutionary War. It was strongly pro-Union in the Civil War.

        [for the deserted settlement, Babylon]
      • Note: Was a thriving ancient center on the Euphrates river. It was the capital of the empire of Hammurabi by the 18th century BCE; it was taken by Assyria in 690 BCE. It flourished under Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BCE; taken by Cyrus the Great in 538 BCE and by Alexander in 331 BCE. The city declined in the 3rd century BCE. Noted for the Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens, which were one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and believed to be the source for the legendary Biblical Tower of Babel.

    • Cardinal directions: In general, do not capitalize cardinal directions or directional adjectives (e.g., located west of Houston, in southern India, in the southwestern United States). When used as a proper name, capitalize the directional word in a name, as in in South India or the American Southwest.

    • Serial comma: Use a comma before and and or in a series of three or more.

    • Quotation marks: If you use quotation marks (e.g., for a title or foreign-language word), place periods and commas that punctuate the paragraph inside quotation marks. Place semi-colons and colons outside the quotation marks.

    • Parentheses: Use parentheses sparingly. They may be used to express an example (using "e.g.,"), dates for a named person or event, or occasionally as a parenthetical phrase in a complex sentence in order to avoid ambiguity (commas usually suffice to set apart a statement).

    • Dashes. Do not use dashes to set apart a phrase. Instead use commas or rephrase.
  • Paragraphs
    The note must be written as one paragraph. Do not include a carriage return or tab.

  • Abbreviations
    Avoid abbreviations.

    • Exceptions: The following abbreviations are preferred to spelling out the words:




before current era


current era


    • Ampersand. Do not use ampersands; always spell out and, unless it is contained in a proper name correctly spelled with an ampersand.

    • World War: Prefer First World War, Second World War; however, World War I or World War II are also acceptable. Avoid WW I and WW II.

    • USA: Prefer United States not US, U.S.; USA is acceptable, because it is the "display name" for that nation.

  • Referring to dates
    A short set of rules appears below. For further discussion of Dates, consult the rules for Display Dates (which are short notes) in Appendix B.

    • BCE and CE: Prefer BCE and CE; avoid BC and AD. Unless otherwise designated, years will be assumed to be CE. However, to avoid end-user confusion, use CE for dates within a few hundred years of year 1.

    • Very ancient dates: For very ancient dates, use before present or years ago; use whichever convention your source uses. Do not abbreviate as BP or YA; do not use BCE for very ancient dates. For very ancient dates, use about rather than ca. (e.g., created about 75,000 years ago).

    • Hyphen: Spans of years: Separate the years with a hyphen. Do not omit digits in the second year (e.g., 1911-1943, NOT 1911-43). Do not use M-dash, N-dash, or other special characters. VCS cannot accept special characters.

    • Apostrophe: Do not use an apostrophe when referring to decades or a century (e.g., in the 1920s, NOT 1920's; 1500s, not 1500's).

    • Century: Spell out century and millennium; do not abbreviate unless absolutely necessary (e.g., 15th century, in the early 20th century, in the 15th and 16th centuries).

    • Hyphens with centuries: When the date is substantive, do not use a hyphen (e.g., during the 15th century).

      • When the date is an adjective, hyphenate it (e.g., in 15th-century paintings; early-20th-century architecture). In a span of multiple centuries, first century mentioned must have hyphen and then space (e.g., in 15th- and 16th-century paintings).

      • Mid is a prefix and always needs a hyphen (e.g., in the mid-19th century, mid-19th-century artists).

    • More re. centuries: Emulate the following examples. Where the preposition precedes the whole phrase and the only thing intervening between the two century names is a conjunction, and maybe an adjective, the plural "centuries" is used. Where a preposition intervenes, the singular "century" is used.

      • In: in the 17th and early 18th centuries

      • Between: between the 17th and 18th centuries

      • From/to: from the 17th to the 19th century.

  • Referring to numbers

    • Numerals vs. numbers written out. Spell out numbers from one to ten, inclusive, unless they are measurements or dates (e.g., having two apprentices but an area of 2 acres, in the 2nd century). Beyond ten, use numerals, unless the number begins a phrase or sentence, then write it out. Exception: when a sentence begins with a century, use the numeral (e.g., 19th-century developments having...).

    • Avoid superscript and other special characters: VCS cannot accept special characters. Never use superscripts; never paste them in from Word or Web pages. For example, for "th" or "1/2" type, 19th-century NOT 19th-century. Do not use M-dash, N-dash, or other special characters.

    • Fractional numbers: Spell out the value when referring to portions of land, buildings, money, populations, or other objects (e.g., one half of the town, two thirds of the population). Use a hyphen if used as an adjective (e.g., valued at one-fourth pence or a church two-thirds destroyed). For measurements, you may use either decimals (e.g., 4.5 miles), or fractions (e.g., 2 1/2 x 4 inches), depending upon what is offered by your source. Include both if you know them.
  • Measurements

    • Metric units or inches, miles, etc.: You may express measurements using either metric units or inches, feet, yards, or miles, depending upon what is offered by your source. Provide both if known.

      • Example
        [for the Ungava-Quebec Crater]
      • Note: Located in the northwestern part of the Ungava Peninsula, northern Quebec province, Canada. Noted as the largest crater on the Earth's surface that is indisputably of meteoritic origin. It is 2.1 miles (3.3 km) in diameter and 1,203 feet (367 m) deep, with a rim standing 333 feet (101 m) above ground level. Filled by a lake, it is surrounded by many smaller circular lakes. The surrounding strata are tilted upward toward the center of the crater and are broken here and there by radial fissures.

    • Spell out inches, feet, yards, miles. Use standard codes for metric units: mm, cm, km. Do not use periods after the codes for metric units.

    • Use an "x" between two dimensions (e.g., 2.2 x 6 mm); it is also allowed to use "by" (e.g., 2.2 by 6 mm) but be consistent within the context of each note. You need state the unit only at the end (i.e., not 2.2 mm x 6 mm).

    • Omit the space between the number and the metric code if the measurement is used as an adjective (e.g., "…was 35 mm long" but "she worked mainly with 35mm film").

  • English versions of proper names
    For proper names of places, people, corporate bodies, buildings and other works of art, use the preferred English name.

  • Capitalized words

    • Proper names: Capitalize proper names as appropriate, following ULAN editorial rules for persons' names and using the TGN preferred English name, as warranted; follow AACR rules for other types of proper names.

      • Example
        [for the Himalayas]
      • Note: Vast mountain range bordering India in the north, covering most of Nepal and the southern edge of Tibet. It forms part of the huge string of Eurasian mountain ranges, stretching from the Alps to the mountains of Southeast Asia, that were formed over the last 65 million years by global plate-tectonics (which produced tremendous upheavals in the Earth's crust). The range has historically been a political and economic barrier because of the difficulty in traversing its mountain passes. It is the focus of many Asian myths. It is noted for monasteries, llamas, and as a challenge to modern adventurers. It contains the world's highest peak, Mount Everest.

    • Capitalization: Special cases

      • Prefer Bible and Biblical capitalized. (Webster's and Random House dictionaries prefer it capitalized.)

      • Use the lowercase adjective classical unless you are referring specifically to the 5th-century Greek period by that name, when you should capitalize Classical.

      • If you are referring specifically to the planet Earth (as when discussing its physical feature), capitalize it (as you would for the name of any other planet). When speaking metaphorically, use lowercase earth or avoid using the word earth; instead, use world ("the tallest structure in the world," not "the tallest structure on earth").
  • Titles of books and art works
    If the title of a book, art work, or other work is mentioned in a note, put the title in quotation marks (VCS does not allow for italics). Capitalize the title as appropriate, following VP editorial rules for citations.

      • Example
        [for Barnstaple England]
      • Note: The town received its charter from King Aethelstan in 930. It was the main market town of Devon, and the birthplace of John Gay (1685-1732), author of "The Beggars Opera."

  • Common grammatical and spelling errors

    • "Which" versus "that": Generally, if the subordinate clause is dependent for its meaning on its prior noun, then use that (e.g., Was an official in a medieval commune that had gained its independence from …).

      • If the trailing clause can stand alone and the initial clause can stand alone, then use which (e.g., Was a fief of the Duchy of Burgundy, which itself was … or Was a confederation under which the member states served …). In general, because descriptive notes are tightly worded, there will be comparatively few instances where which would be used.

    • Hyphens: Words beginning with non or ending in like do not need hyphens unless any of the following is true:

      • If the root word is a proper noun (e.g., write Picasso-like)

      • If it results in two or three "l"s or two "n"s in a row (e.g., write tool-like, shell-like but towerlike, tablelike)

      • With semi-, which is usually a prefix, and thus needs a hyphen; but some words have closed up with heavy usage. Use Webster's 3d International Dictionary as a guide.

      • With self-, which always takes a hyphen when used as a prefix.

      • With an adverb ending in "ly" followed by an adjective, you do not need a hyphen (e.g., critically acclaimed design).

    • Toward: Prefer toward and forward, not towards or forwards (a preference more than strict rule).

    • And/or: Do not use and/or if it can possibly be avoided. It can usually be rephrased using one or the other without suggesting that the inclusion or exclusion of one or the other is absolute.

    • Double consonants: For verbs with "ing" or "ed" endings where either a single or a doubled consonant is acceptable, prefer the single consonant (e.g., traveling, modeling).





Sources for the Descriptive Note


A reference to the sources used for information in the Descriptive Note, typically published sources.



  • Brief Citation: A brief reference to the source. See Appendix C: Citations.

  • Full Citation: A full citation for the source, including the author's name, title, and place and date of publication. See Appendix C: Citations.


Sources for the citations are title pages of the works.

  • Values are controlled by the Sources file in VCS. A source must be added to the Source file in order to be used in (linked to) the Subject (place) record. For a discussion of how to add sources to the Sources file, see Appendix C: Citations.



  • It is required to cite the sources used to write the Descriptive Note. In the Page Field, it is required to cite the volume, page number, date of accessing a Web site, or other appropriate indication of the specific location of the information in the source.

      • Examples
      • Brief Citation: Princeton Encyclopedia (1979)
        Full Citation: Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. 2nd ed. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1979.
        Page: 29

      • Brief Citation: Encyclopedia Britannica Online (2002-)
        Full Citation: Encyclop$70aedia Britannica. Britannica Online. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2002-. (1 July 2002).
        Page: "Himalayas," accessed 29 July 2004

  • In general, the descriptive note must have a source. An exception, requiring no source, is when the note serves only to explain the distinction between two places that are near each other and share the same name.

  • If there are multiple editions or multiple publication dates for a source, link to the specific source that you are using.

  • Encyclopedia article author: Whereas you need not list the author and article name for an encyclopedia article if it is a source for only a name, if an article is a source for the Descriptive Note, cite the author and article name in the page field 1) if you have used a significant amount of information from the article, or 2) if the information is controversial, and 3) if the article has an author credit (generally at the end of the article).

      • Examples
      • Brief Citation: Grove Dictionary of Art online (1999-2002)
        Full Citation: Grove Dictionary of Art (online edition). Jane Turner, ed. New York: Macmillan Publishing Ltd., 1999-2002. (3 December 1999).
        Page: Lowenthal, Anne W., "Claesz, Pieter," accessed 3 March 2005

      • Brief Citation: New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967-1979)
        Full Citation: Catholic University of America. New Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Publishers Guild in association with McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1967-1979.
        Page: Vailh$00e, S.,"Caesarea Palaestinae," 3:89 ff.

  • For rules for constructing Brief and Full Citations, see Appendix C: Citations. The Brief Citation should be a short reference to the source. The Full Citation is full reference to the published or unpublished work.


Preferred sources
Some commonly used sources for Descriptive Notes include the following:

    • Encyclopaedia Britannica. Britannica Online. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2002-. (1 July 2002)

    • Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary. 3rd ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1997.

    • Columbia Gazetteer of the World. Saul B. Cohen, ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

    • Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites. 2nd ed. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1979.

    • Canby, Courtlandt. Encyclopedia of Historic Places. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1984.

    • Authoritative travel guides, such as the Red Guides for various Italian regions and cities: Guida d'Italia del Touring Club Italiano. Milano: Touring Club Italiano, 1979.

    • Journal articles from National Geographic, Archaeology Magazine, or other authoritative journals.

    • Textbooks or authoritative history books, such as Oxford History of the Classical World. John Boardman, Jasper Griffin, and Oswyn Murray, eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

    • Official national Web sites or other authoritative online sources.


Translating the Descriptive Note

  • Translations should be done only by experienced translators who are bilingual or at minimum expert in both English and the target language. It is also highly recommended that the translator is a subject expert in the topics covered in the section of the TGN being translated, for example, art history, archaeology, or another pertinent specialty.

  • When translating the Descriptive Note from English into another language, the second descriptive note should include the same information as the original English descriptive note, but it need not be a direct, literal translation. While translating, if you find that important information is missing from the original English descriptive note, or if the English descriptive note is incorrect, please consult with the Vocabulary editors.





Contributor for the Descriptive Note


A reference to the institution or project that contributed the Descriptive Note.


Controlled by a link to a file of controlled terminology; the list changes as new contributors are added.



  • It is required to have at least one contributor for each descriptive note. The default Contributor is VP (Vocabulary Program). Other contributors' initials will have been added during the data load, and typically do not need to be edited. If you feel it is necessary to change a link from one contributor to another, consult with your supervisor.

  • If you are adding data by hand, even if the data was given to you in a printout or other form by an institution or project that is a contributor, the contributor should be VP because the Vocabulary Program is actually entering the data (and thus some amount of interpretation is going on). The Source of the Descriptive Note would refer to the institution or project, but they are NOT the Contributor.





Language for the Descriptive Note


The language of the Descriptive Note. Most descriptive notes in TGN are written in English, however scope notes in other languages may be included.



  • 1. Language: Word or words referring to the language of the term.

  • 2. Language Code: Unique code for the language in VCS. Related languages have codes within a given range, to allow retrieval of related languages.


Controlled by the Languages file.



  • It is required to flag the language of the descriptive note. Descriptive note is optional, but if there is any descriptive note, one must be in English.
  • Descriptive notes may be translated into multiple languages. There may be only one descriptive note in each language.
  • Flag the appropriate language for every descriptive note. Do not write a descriptive note in a language other than English unless you are an expert in that language. Most descriptive notes in other languages will be acquired through bulk contributions.
  • American and British English: It should not be necessary to write separate descriptive notes in American and British English, given that most words are spelled the same in both “languages.” Scope notes in English should be flagged with language = English.

Last updated 5 October 2017
Document is subject to frequent revisions


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