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Art & Architecture Thesaurus Online
3. Editorial Rules, continued






Scope Note

Included in this chapter







Scope Note



A Note that describes how the term should be used within the context of the AAT, and provides descriptive information about the concept or expands upon information recorded in other fields. The Scope Note in AAT is analogous to the Descriptive Note in ULAN and TGN.



A free-text field; values may include any ASCII character. No special characters or diacritics are allowed; diacritics must be expressed according to the codes in Appendix A. Do not use carriage returns or tabs.



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



The Descriptive Note or Scope Note clarifies the meaning and usage of a concept within the context of the AAT. A scope note differs from a definition in a dictionary or glossary in that, rather than providing all the possible meanings for a word, it identifies a single concept and explains its particular meaning. For example, a dictionary entry for barrel could include a dozen different definitions including those for a type of container, a firearm component, and a part of a musical instrument, all of which are barrels. In the AAT, barrels would appear three times, as barrels (aerophone components), barrels (containers), and barrels (firearm components); each is found in its appropriate part of the AAT hierarchical structure. In the AAT, words that are spelled the same but represent different concepts are homographs, and are recorded in separate records, unlike in a dictionary. The parenthetical qualifiers of the AAT allow users to distinguish among the homographs at a glance, but their scope notes further define them.

Scope Note is a repeatable field. There should always be a scope note in English, but there may be multiple scope notes in multiple languages. Each instance of the scope note has a contributor and at least one source.










Minimum requirements
The Scope Note in English is required in the AAT. (Descriptive Notes are not required in the TGN and ULAN.)





Write a note that outlines usage and meaning of the descriptor. Keep in mind that the note should also be applicable to all other terms in the record. Topics may include the following:

    • the usage of the descriptor, alternate descriptors, and used for terms in the record

    • the meaning and context of the descriptor and other terms in the record

    • distinguishing between terms that are in different records and have overlapping meanings or that may otherwise be confused by users

      • Example
        [for "still lifes"]
      • Note: Images in which the focus is a depiction of inanimate objects, as distinguished from art in which such objects are subsidiary elements in a composition. The term is generally applied to depictions of fruit, flowers, meat or dead game, vessels, eating utensils, and other objects, including skulls, candles, and hourglasses, typically arranged on a table. Such images were known since the time of ancient Greece and Rome; however, the subject was exploited by some 16th-century Italian painters, and was highly developed in 17th-century Dutch painting, where the qualities of form, color, texture, and composition were valued, and the images were intended to relay allegorical messages. The subject is generally seen in oil paintings, though it can also be found in mosaics, watercolors, prints, collages, and photographs. The term originally included paintings in which the focus was on living animals at rest, although such depictions would now be called "animal paintings."

  • Clarifying meaning
    Clarify meaning by precisely identifying a specific type of work and how it was used, as necessary.

      • Example
        [for "rhyta"]
        Note: Refers to vessels from Ancient Greece, eastern Europe, or the Middle East that typically have a closed form with two openings, one at the top for filling and one at the base so that liquid could stream out. They are often in the shape of a horn or an animal's head, and were typically used as a drinking cup or for pouring wine into another vessel.

  • Describing context
    Describe the context of the concept, people or places relevant to the concept, and the time period during which it was evident or applicable, as appropriate.

      • Example
        [for "Mannerist (Renaissance-Baroque style)"]
        Note: Refers to a style and a period in evidence approximately from the 1520s to 1590, developing chiefly in Rome and spreading elsewhere in Europe. The style is characterized by a distancing from the Classical ideal of the Renaissance to create a sense of fantasy, experimentation with color and materials, and a new human form of elongated, pallid, exaggerated elegance.

  • Describing various uses of a term
    Describe different ways in which the terms may be used. Alert the user if the meaning of a term has changed over time.

      • Example
        [for "ale glasses"]
        Note: Glasses intended for drinking ale or beer. Early 17th- and 18th-century examples are often similar in form to elongated wine glasses with ogee or rounded funnel bowls, resting on stems of varying length; bowl capacity is usually between three and five ounces. Modern examples are often in the form of tall, thin glasses, generally of 12-ounce capacity, which taper at the bottom and rest on solid bases.
  • Guiding selection among related terms
    Include advice to guide users in selecting the most appropriate term among several possibilities, particularly when there are subtle differences in meaning among similar and closely related concepts.

      • Example
        [for "naïve art"]
        Note: Refers to art created by non-professional artists or artisans who have not had formal training and are often self-taught. It typically displays the artist's poor grasp of anatomy and lacks mastery of conventional perspective and other hallmarks of trained artists. It includes painting, sculpture, embroidery, quilts, toys, ships' figureheads, decoys, painted targets, and other objects, and often refers to such objects created specifically in 19th- and 20th-century Europe and North America. It is generally distinguished from "outsider art," which includes the more extravagant psychotic drawings and other art created or collected according to a philosophy of the avoidance of, rather than simply a lack of, traditional training. It is also usually distinct from "folk art," which is created according to specific cultural traditions.

    • Caveat: If you refer to another concept in the scope note, include a reciprocal reference in the scope note for the corresponding concept. In addition, you must also link to the related concept (see 3.6 Associative Relationships).

      • Examples
        [for "breezeways"]

      • Note: Refers to roofed passages connecting two parts of a house or a house and garage; common after 1930. Distinct from "dogtrots," which occur in folk architecture and log houses.

        [for "hot-melt adhesive"]
      • Note: A thermoplastic adhesive that is applied in the molten state and forms a bond on cooling to a solid state. Distinguished from "heat-seal adhesive" which is already present in a thin layer on the adherends prior to the application of heat and pressure.

    • When distinguishing one term from another use "distinguished from…" or "as distinct from ..."

  • Order of topics in the Scope Note
    Describe the concept by first placing it in its general class, then describe its particular properties, qualities, uses, or origins. Use a concise, logical pattern that includes as much information as possible within a minimum amount of space. The Scope Note typically should consist of three to five parts in the following order.

    • 1. Optional: Repeat the term to be defined. In AAT scope notes, this part is generally omitted, unless necessary for clarity. For example, it may be necessary when the descriptor is plural but the scope note discusses the singular, or when a descriptor and "used for" term are both discussed in the note.

    • 2. Mention the class or broader context of the object or concept to which the term belongs.

    • 3. List the differentiating characteristics that distinguish it from all others of its class.

    • 4. Optional: Include additional descriptions of the use of the concept, a description of the object, or the history of its use or development, as time and editorial priorities allow.

    • 5. Make a reference to other terms that are related to or distinguished from this concept, required when appropriate.

      • Examples
        [for the term "water"]

        Example 1 (most typical order and syntax of notes for the AAT):

      • Note: A liquid [class] made up of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio of 2 to 1 [differentiating characteristics]. The term "water" is typically used to refer to the liquid form of this compound; for the solid or gaseous forms, use "ice" or "water vapor." [related terms]

        Example 2 (also allowed but discouraged unless necessary, repeating the term as the first word in the note):

      • Note: Water [term] is a liquid [class] made up of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio of 2 to 1 [differentiating characteristics]. The term "water" is typically used to refer to the liquid form of this compound; for the solid or gaseous forms, use "ice" or "water vapor." [related terms]

      Example 3 (a fuller, more comprehensive note, encouraged only if time and expertise of the editor allows):
      • Note: A liquid made up of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in the ratio of 2 to 1. When pure, it is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. It exists in liquid, gaseous, and solid forms; it is liquid at room temperature. It is the liquid of which seas, lakes, and rivers are composed, and which falls as rain. Water is one of the most plentiful and essential of compounds. One of its most important properties is its ability to dissolve many other substances; the versatility of water as a solvent is essential to living organisms. It is vital to life, participating in virtually every process that occurs in plants and animals. The term "water" is typically used to refer to the liquid form of this compound; for the solid or gaseous forms, use "ice" or "water vapor."
  • Additional topics
    In addition to defining the term and explaining the usage of the term, the following topics may be included as appropriate:

    • Uses: Give an explanation of what the concept or object is used for (It is used for…, One of its main uses is…).

      • Example
        [for "Alberene stone"]

      • Note: A bluish gray stone quarried in Virginia; commonly used for building trim and for chemical laboratory tables and sinks; hard varieties are employed for stair treads and flooring.

        [for "fixative"]
      • Note: A substance used to increase the durability or stability of another substance, such as pigment on paper or dye in textiles.

        [for "adzes"]
      • Note: Long-handled tools with a curved blade set perpendicular to the handle; used for dressing lumber.

        [for "banquet halls "]
      • Note: Large rooms, halls, or apartments designed or used for festive or state functions.

    • Characteristics: Describe the primary characteristics of the concept (It is characterized by …).

      • Examples
        [for "Baroque"]
      • Note: Refers to the style and period of architecture, visual art, decorative art, music, and literature of western Europe and the Americas from about 1590 to 1750. The style is characterized by balance and wholeness, often with an emphasis on spectacle and emotional content, and a tendency toward contrasts of light against dark, mass against void, and the use of strong diagonals and curves.

        [for "Alençon lace"]
      • Note: A type of needle lace made in and around Alen$05con, France, as well as similar lace made elsewhere. Alen$05con lace is characterized by a uniform square mesh with twisted sides, heavy use of modes, and bold main elements outlined with a conspicuous cordonnet. Venetian lace makers were brought to France by Colbert in 1665 and settled in Alen$05con in 1765, establishing a lace industry under government protection. The industry declined over the course of the 18th century but was revived under Napoleon and again during the Second Empire.

    • Origin of the object: Refer to the place and date of origin of the material, object, style, etc. (It was first used…, It originated in …).

      • Examples
        [for "trailings (glass)"]
      • Note: Refers to threads of glass that are applied as a decoration, generally on the body, foot, or handle of a vessel. The threads may be laid down in straight rows or in a pattern or chain. Trailings were first seen in ancient Roman glass, and were also popular in medieval and later glass. They are distinct from "threadings," which are independent designs that are often partially free-standing.

        [for "pixillation"]
      • Note: Animation technique in which humans or objects are filmed incrementally in various fixed poses or positions, creating an unnatural or surreal effect when projected at normal speed. The technique was first used by Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren in his 1952 short film "Neighbours.

    • Chronological and geographic delimiters: Generally, place chronological or geographic delimiters near the end of the scope note. Exceptions: if the dates or geographic information are crucial to the term's scope, they may be placed at the beginning of the note (e.g., commonly used in northern Europe… or popular during the 18th century…, or with adjectival phrases such as Chinese flutes that … or Italian bell towers that …).

    • Origin of the term: Include a reference to the origin or first use of the term, if known.

      • Example
        [for "Postmodern"]
      • Note: Refers to the style and period of art and architecture that developed in the 1960s and after, when there was a clear challenge to the dominance of Modernism. Generally speaking, it advocated a pluralistic approach to the arts and it stated that Modernism had failed because of a lack of a coded language of meaning to the viewer. The term was first used by Spanish poet Federico de Onis in 1934 and later by Arnold Toynbee's "A Study of History" in 1938, but it was in the 1970s when it came into wide use in connection with a trend in architecture that employed selective Eclecticism and Historicism.

    • Appearance, materials: Describe the appearance of the object (color, size, shape, material, etc.) or what it is made of (It consists of…, Its main components are…, It is made of…, it comprises …).

      • Examples
        [for "acroliths"]
      • Note: Ancient Greek sculptures in which the extremities are made of stone and the torso is made of another material, usually wood.

        [for "cell towers"]
      • Note: Telecommunications towers specifically for use with cellular telephones. They consist of radios, switching equipment, and antennas that receive and transmit radiofrequency (RF) signals.

        [for "chimeres"]
      • Note: Outer, sleeveless, floor-length garments, cut simply in the front and full from a shoulder blade yoke in back; generally made of scarlet or black silk; always worn over a rochet.

        [for gambi (paper)]
      • Note: Japanese paper produced from the short bast (inner bark) fibers of the species Wikstroemia canescens, native to the mountainous regions of Asia. It is first known from ca. 850 CE. Gampi is a fine, fibrous paper made on a papermaking screen that is covered with a waterproof silk cloth, resulting in a silk-like, woven appearance. While gampi is transparent, smooth, and strong, it has poor dimensional stability, used as tracing paper and as interleaves for beating gold, but not for linings.

    • Constituent types: Only where appropriate, name the concept's various types, subdivisions, or categories. This will rarely be necessary, given that the types, etc. should typically be listed as children of this concept and do not need to be repeated here. If you do list types, etc. in the note, be certain that you list the same subdivisions as are listed as the hierarchical "children" of the concept (There are three types of <term>…, It is divided into three parts …, It comprises …).

      • Example
        [for "Stone Age" is divided into …]
      • Note: Refers to the period and culture associated with the first age of the Three Age system developed by Christian Jürgensen Thomsen in 1836. It is a stage in the development of hominids or of a prehistoric human culture characterized by the creation and use of stone tools and weapons, as distinguished from later stages of culture when bronze or iron were used for these purposes. The Stone Age is generally divided into three periods, Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic, distinguished from each other by the degree of sophistication evident in the fashioning and use of tools.

        [for "Chokwe" comprise …]
      • Note: Refers to the culture of the Bantu-speaking people inhabiting the southern Congo and northeastern Angola. They comprise many aboriginal peoples and conquering groups of Lunda origin, and they speak a language of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo languages. They are hunters or agriculturalists, depending upon which region they inhabit. They live primarily in woodland savanna and strips of rainforest along rivers.





When a term has multiple usages

  • Separate concepts
    In writing the scope note, do not include usages or meanings that more properly describe separate concepts. In such situations, make a separate record for the homograph and write an appropriate scope note for it. Hint: If the usages and meanings are described in separate definitions for the term in a dictionary, you probably are dealing with homographs, not the same concept.

  • Same concept
    If there are variations in meaning for a term and the term is correctly a single concept, describe the usages in the scope note.

      • Examples
        [for "dice"]
      • Note: Small cubes necessary to the play of many games, marked on each face distinctively with from one to six dots such that opposite faces add to seven; may also be used for similar cubes marked with other numbers or symbols specially created for certain other games.

        [for "municipia"]
      • Note: Ancient Roman cities or towns founded with citizenship and legal rights similar to those afforded to colonies, but which were lower in status; may also be used for certain small towns during the Middle Ages.

  • General vs. specific
    In legacy AAT editorial rules Scope Notes were sometimes written to account for both general and specific usages of a term. This practice was feasible when the AAT was monolingual. However, now that the AAT is multilingual, editors should avoid writing "general vs. specific" scope notes. This is critical because scoping a term with such a wide range of meaning creates problems when translating into another language, where there may be separate terms for the general and specific usages. Each AAT record should stand for one and only one unique concept. If a term has both a general and a specific meaning, either a) describe the specific meaning as an example of the concept (where appropriate), or b) make a separate record for the homograph. It is strongly preferred to adopt solution a) rather than making a separate record for a homograph, unless absolutely necessary.

      • Examples
        [legacy "general vs. specific" scope note for "additive (material)"]
      • Note: Generally, any substance that is added to another to impart certain qualities to the resulting product. Specifically, often used to describe those chemical substances added to foods to produce given effects.

        [new scope note for "additive (material)"]
      • Note: A substance that is added to another to impart certain qualities to the resulting product. Examples of additives are chemical substances added to foods to produce given effects.

  • Variations in usage of Used For terms
    Caveat: If there are variations in the usage of Used For terms and thus you find yourself tempted to explain the differences in the scope note, in most cases the Used For term should be a descriptor in a separate concept record.





Spelling of AAT, ULAN, and TGN terms
If you refer to another AAT term in the scope note, use the descriptor or alternate descriptor of that term.

      • Example
        [for "aerial views", AAT descriptors are in quotation marks]
      • Note: Refers to views achieved by photographing from an aircraft or other high location. When emphasizing the photograph itself, use "aerial photographs." For nonphotographic depictions having high viewpoints, use "bird's-eye views" or "bird's-eye perspectives."

  • If you use a TGN name, use the preferred English name for the place.

  • If you use a ULAN name, use the preferred display name (natural order form) for the person or corporate body.

      • Example
        [for "Cubist," the names of artists are the preferred display ULAN names]
      • Note: Refers to the international art movement begun by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1908, which developed in phases and lasted until the early 1920s. The style is characterized by an emphasis on the flat, two-dimensional surface of the picture plane, the rejection of traditional methods of representation, and the dissolution of objects by making several sides visible simultaneously.





Avoid circularity
Do not define the concept by using a closely related term. Instead, explain the meaning of the second term within the context of the first scope note.

      • Example
        [for "history painters," explain what "history paintings" are]
      • Note: Artists who produce history paintings, which are multi-figure narrative scenes of real or legendary events.

        [NOT this]
        Note: Artists who produce history paintings.

        [for "axonometric drawings," explain what "axonometric projection" is]
      • Note: Refers to drawings created by using axonometric projection, which is a system of portraying a three dimensional object by depicting projectors parallel to each other and generally where at least one of the three spatial axes is inclined to the plane of projection. In modern architectural parlance, the term sometimes refers only to drawings depicted as if an orthographic rendering of the object has been tilted to the plane.

        [NOT this]
        Note: Refers to drawings created by using axonometric projection.

  • Avoid tautology. Do not define the term by a mere repetition of the term itself or simply paraphrasing the term. For example, do not define abrasive paper as "paper that is abrasive."

      • Example
        [for "ceiling papers"]
      • Note: Wallpapers designed for use on ceilings, often with tiny repeating patterns or astronomical motifs.
        [NOT this]
        Note: Papers for ceilings.





Respect hierarchical placement
Be sure that the scope note does not exclude any of the narrower concepts. Also be sure that it fits as a type of its broader concept and by extension all the way up the hierarchy. If this cannot be done, then either the placement of the concept in the hierarchy is wrong or the scope notes on the other terms should be adjusted.

  • The wording of the scope note must agree with the syntax and meaning of its broader term. Order the note to reflect the hierarchical placement. For instance, if a term is located under a guide term < … by form>, begin the scope note by outlining the form of the concept, not its function.

      • Example
        [for "capstan tables," which are under "<tables by form>"]
      • Note: Tables with a circular top that expands on an iron frame to allow eight extra leaves to be inserted. Patented by Robert Jupe in 1835.

  • If the term has multiple parents, compose a note that will work with the concept's alternate hierarchical positions as well.

      • Example
        [for "chapels," which is under single built works and also under building components, so the note accounts for both by beginning "Rooms or small buildings…"]
      • Note: Rooms or small buildings that serve as sanctuaries or places of Christian worship. A chapel may be used for private worship in or attached to a church, palace, house, prison, monastery, or school. It may alternatively be used for public worship of the established Church, subordinate to or dependent upon the parish church, the accommodation supplied by which it in some way supplements. The concept includes both freestanding chapels and rooms or recesses serving as chapels in churches or other buildings. The Latin "cappella" or the French-derived "chappelle" or "chapelle" are occasionally used for "chapel" in English texts.





Coordinating parts of speech
In general, describe the term with same part of speech as the term itself. See also the Part of Speech Flag, below.

  • Nouns
    Most terms in the AAT are nouns; for such terms, begin the note with a reference to the noun form of the class or broader context.
      • Example
        [for the noun "felt," described with the noun "textile"]
      • Note: Textile constructed usually of wool and fur fiber often mixed with natural or synthetic fiber by the interlocking of the loose fiber through the action of heat, moisture, chemicals, and pressure without spinning, weaving, or knitting.

    • If the descriptor is a plural noun, use plural nouns to describe it in the scope note.

      • Examples
        [for "ovals"]
      • Note: Geometric plane figures having the shape of an elongated circle.

        [for "fans (costume accessories)"]
      • Note: Hand-held implements used to produce a current of air or to serve as purely decorative accessories; may be rigid or collapsible.

  • Verbal nouns
    There are no descriptors that are verbs in the AAT. For verbal nouns (gerunds functioning as nouns), use a gerund in the scope note as appropriate.

      • Examples
        [for "felting"]
      • Note: Applying heat, pressure, and moisture to cause fiber to adhere and mat together. For the controlled shrinking of textile in order to make it thicker and more compact, use "fulling."

        [for "dyeing"]
      • Note: Applying heat, pressure, and moisture to cause fiber to adhere and mat together. For the controlled shrinking of textile in order to make it thicker and more compact, use "fulling."

  • Adjectives
    There are occasionally descriptors that are adjectives in the AAT. Use a present participle used as an adjective to describe them.

      • Examples
        [for "large"]
      • Note: Being more ample or extensive than usual in quantity, spatial extent, or transverse dimensions.

        [for "anthropomorphic"]
      • Note: Resembling a human form.

        [for "fan-shaped"]
      • Note: Having a semi-circular form like a stylized fan, sometimes with pleats or fluting in imitation of the folds of a fan.





Simplicity and clarity
The scope note must be concise, clear, and include only essential information. Include only the most important and critical characteristics of the concept. State the differentiating characteristics precisely.

  • Avoid "Use for." Do not begin the note with the phrase "Use for …" (this phrase was used in old AAT Scope Notes, but is awkward and confusing to many users); instead use "Refers to .. " or a noun.

  • Avoid overly technical terminology. In the note, use relatively simple terminology that will be familiar to the end-user. Keeping in mind that most AAT users will be specialists in art and architecture, and thus will understand some specialized terminology in these fields. However, if you must use a highly specialized term that is likely to be unknown to most users, define it in the Scope Note.

  • Avoid negative statements. Use affirmative statements when possible. Generally state what the concept is rather than what it is not, except where necessary for clarity (as in the example below).

      • Example
        [for "bookmakers," exception, where the note mentions what the term is not]
      • Note: People who make physical books, including bookbinders, printers, and others. The term does not generally include authors, who write the intellectual content of books, although it may include artists who make books by hand, including writing or drawing the content by hand. Do not use for a broker who accepts wagers from gamblers.





The scope note should be brief and concise. It is intended to clarify usage and 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 Scope 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.

      • Examples
        [short note, for "exterior views"]
      • Note: Refers to photographs or other representations of the exterior of a building or other structure or object that has interior and exterior spaces.

        [longer note, for "bird's eye views"]
      • Note: Refers to nonphotographic depictions having a viewpoint well above normal eye level. They are typically prints, drawings or paintings that incorporate a point of view as if the viewer were looking at the ground from the level of the clouds. The advantage of the high angle is that more detail can be displayed, as the foreground does not obscure the background. This view has been used since the time of ancient Rome, when it was used to portray battlefields; it is also commonly used to portray urban developments, for landscape garden plans, and for palaces and towns. Bird's-eye views depict a vantage point higher than one taken from just above roof-level, but lower than a map-view. For architectural drawings in precise perspective, use "bird's-eye perspectives." For photographs, use "aerial views" or "aerial photographs." For pictorial maps, use "map views."





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

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

  • Plagiarism
    Do not plagiarize: Paraphrase the information - 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 authoritative source) be careful not to state it as if it were proven fact (e.g., the reference to the Bible and "legend" in the example below). At the same time, refer to religious texts in a neutral and respectful tone.

      • Examples
        [for crèches (Christmas)]
      • Note: Refers to a representation of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. It is typically characterized by being three-dimensional and including the infant Jesus in the manger, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, sheep, the ox and ass, and other attending figures, such as shepherds, magi, and angels. The term "cr$02eche" derives from the animals' manger in which, according to some translations of the Gospel of Saint Luke, the Virgin placed the newborn Jesus. According to legend, Saint Francis of Assisi popularized the Christmas cr$02eche in 1223 at Greccio, Italy, when he is said to have celebrated Midnight Mass in a stable where men and animals re-enacted the Nativity.

      • Note: Refers to a triad of the three main Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Some scholars consider the Trimurti as a way to reconcile different monotheistic approaches with one another and with the concept of ultimate reality (Brahman) since the Trimurti manifests the cosmic functions of the Supreme Being. Brahma represents the equilibrium between the opposing forces of preservation and destruction, represented by Vishnu and Shiva respectively. The Trimurti was classically expressed in the poem "Kumarasambhava" by Kalidasa (ca. 4th-5th century).

  • Currency of the information: Keep in mind that the Scope Note may not be updated for some time, so do not use it to record extremely volatile situations that may change in a few months. 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.

  • Controversial subjects
    When referring to a disputed or controversial matter, remain perfectly neutral, giving equal emphasis to both points of view.

  • 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.

    • Avoid using terminology for that may be considered offensive by groups of people. For example, when speaking of the indigenous populations of the Americas in the scope note, 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 "Native American," "Amerindian" (where appropriate), or "First Nations" (where appropriate).





Uncertainty and ambiguity
Explain any controversies or ambiguous issues. 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 Scope Note is not an access point for retrieval. Therefore, if you mention important information in the Scope Note, in order to facilitate retrieval, index it in the appropriate controlled fields elsewhere in the record (e.g., in Names, Display Dates, Associative Relationships, or alternate Hierarchical Relationships).

  • Explain information indexed elsewhere
    Explain uncertainty, ambiguity, or complexities surrounding terms, associative relationships, or hierarchical relationships. Index terms and relationships in the appropriate fields.

  • Display Date notes
    In addition to the Scope Note, you may also use the Display Dates for Terms, Hierarchical relationships, 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 Scope 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.





When to include a Scope Note

  • For new records
    Include a scope note for all new AAT records. Include all appropriate topics as discussed in Topics above.

  • For existing records
    Add scope notes for existing records as time and editorial priorities allow.

  • Guide terms
    Guide terms generally do not require scope notes; however, guide terms may have scope notes if necessary to explain what specific function the guide term serves in its hierarchical placement, which usually means saying what the terms located beneath it have in common. Scope notes on guide terms usually begin with the phrase "Collocates descriptors for ...".

      • Example
        [for "<political administrative bodies>"]
      • Note: Collocates descriptors for organizations consisting of a governing authority together with a population and an area of land, which are under its jurisdiction in some or all respects.





Style [1]
Note that some older Scope Notes in AAT do not follow the currently approved style. If you are editing an AAT record with an outdated 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.

      • Examples
        [for "hollow (form attribute)"]
      • Note: Having an empty space or cavity within; not filled in with matter.

        [for "internationalism"]
      • Note: Refers to the political theory or belief that the focus of political activities should be the universal human condition rather than the interests of a particular nation. For the similar philosophical approach not limited to the context of politics but discussed or applied in a broader social, cultural, scientific, ecological, or humanistic context, see "globalism."

  • Capitalization and Punctuation
    Write the note in mixed case (not all upper or all lower case). Express diacritics using diacritical codes in Appendix A.

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

      • Examples
        [for "baluster columns"]
      • Note: Columns resembling balusters, composed of a base, a potlike element, a bulbous shaft, and a capital.

        [for "Viking"]
      • Note: Refers to the period, culture, and style of art produced between the later eighth century and early 12th century in Scandinavia and Scandinavian settlements overseas. The term is derived from the old Norse noun "víkingr," and narrowly refers to sea pirates and raiders. However, it is usually applied to the broader realm of Scandinavian culture from this time period.

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

      • Example
        [for "bay windows"]
      • Note: Windows, either single or in a series, forming a bay or recess in a room and projecting outward from the wall in a rectangular, curved, or polygonal form.

    • Quotation marks: Use quotation marks for a title or when citing a term within the note. Place periods and commas that punctuate the paragraph inside quotation marks. Place semi-colons and colons outside the quotation marks.

      • Example
        [for "craftsmen"]
      • Note: Refers to those who practice an occupation, trade, or pursuit requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill. For those who create or construct artifacts directly by their own labor, especially as their profession or primary occupation, see "makers."

    • Parentheses: Use parentheses sparingly (commas usually suffice to set apart a statement). Parentheses 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.

    • 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 a proper name correctly spelled with an ampersand.

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

    • Prefer United States not US or 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, use about rather than ca. (e.g., created about 75,000 years ago).

      • Example
        [for "Abbevillian"]
      • Note: Refers to the period of European prehistoric stone tool development dating to just after 700,000 before present, and known from tools found in sediments in a suburb of Abbeville, France. The culture is characterized by distinctive stone tools, including the earliest hand axes that are bifacially flaked, with deep flake scars and jagged edges, and thick flakes. The period is usually considered closely related to the Acheulian tradition. The concept of the earliest hand-axe culture in Europe was formerly known as Chellean, but the concept is now known as Abbevillian, and the implements from Chelles, France that formerly defined the culture are now grouped with Acheulian.

    • 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).

      • 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...).

    • 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 cartes-de-visite]
      • Note: Note: Refers to small-format photographs affixed to card stock, particularly the card photographs patented by the Parisian photographer Andr$00e-Adolphe-Eug$02ene Disd$00eri in 1854 and similar items produced by Mathew B. Brady and other photographers. They went out of fashion in the 1870s. The photographs were typically portraits and the image was a standard size of 3 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches; they were generally produced by a multiple-lens camera that created several images on a single full-sized negative plate. Full-size prints from the plate were cut into 4 x 2-1/2-inch sections, and the pieces were often mounted on cards, which initially served as visitors' cards; it later became the custom to exchange them on birthdays and holidays, and to collect cartes-de-visite of friends, family members, and celebrities in albums.

    • 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" distance 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 proper names.

        • Example
          [for " Illyrian helmets"]
        • Note: Open-faced helmets with cheekpieces and a closely fitting skull, at first made of two and later of only one sheet of bronze. They originated in the Peloponnese in the early 7th century BCE.

    • 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.

  • 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., A medieval that is characterized …).

      • If the trailing clause can stand alone and the initial clause can stand alone, then use which (e.g., Developed from an earlier machine, which itself was … or A system of beliefs under which …). In general, because Scope 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 Scope Note





A reference to the sources used for information in the Scope 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 Scope 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, notes must have sources. An exception, requiring no source, is notes for guide terms.

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

  • If there is an author indicated for an encyclopedia article (e.g., Grove), whereas you need not list the full author and article name if it is a source for only a name, if you have paraphrased significant information in the Scope Note, give the author credit by citing the article name and author in the page field.

      • 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 Scope Notes include the following:

    • Major dictionaries and encyclopedia.

    • Oxford Companion to Art. Harold Osborne, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996 (17th impression, originally published in 1970).

    • Books on specialized subjects.

    • Definitions and glossaries provided by authoritative sources, including museum or university Web sites.

    • Mayer, Ralph, Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques. 5th ed., revised and updated by Steven Sheehan. New York: Viking, 1991.


Translating the Scope 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 AAT being translated, for example, art history or another pertinent specialty.

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






Contributor for the Scope Note


A reference to the institution or project that contributed the Scope 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 every scope 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 Scope Note would refer to the institution or project, but they are NOT the Contributor.




Language for the Scope Note


The language of the Scope Note. All records should have a scope note in English. Where qualified translators have provided translations, 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 scope note. Each AAT record must have a scope note in English.

  • Scope notes may be translated into multiple languages. There may be only one scope note in each language.

  • Flag the appropriate language for every scope note. Do not write a scope note in a language other than English unless you are an expert in that language. Most scope notes in other languages will be acquired through bulk contributions.

  • American and British English: It should not be necessary to write separate scope 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.



[1]Some rules and examples are from the Purdue University Online Writing Lab ( and the ANSI/NISO Z39.19 draft standard.


Last updated 11 June 2014
Document is subject to frequent revisions

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