A random walk on an ontology: Using thesaurus structure for automatic subject indexing

Craig Willis, Robert M. Losee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Relationships between terms and features are an essential component of thesauri, ontologies, and a range of controlled vocabularies. In this article, we describe ways to identify important concepts in documents using the relationships in a thesaurus or other vocabulary structures. We introduce a methodology for the analysis and modeling of the indexing process based on a weighted random walk algorithm. The primary goal of this research is the analysis of the contribution of thesaurus structure to the indexing process. The resulting models are evaluated in the context of automatic subject indexing using four collections of documents pre-indexed with 4 different thesauri (AGROVOC [UN Food and Agriculture Organization], high-energy physics taxonomy [HEP], National Agricultural Library Thesaurus [NALT], and medical subject headings [MeSH]). We also introduce a thesaurus-centric matching algorithm intended to improve the quality of candidate concepts. In all cases, the weighted random walk improves automatic indexing performance over matching alone with an increase in average precision (AP) of 9% for HEP, 11% for MeSH, 35% for NALT, and 37% for AGROVOC. The results of the analysis support our hypothesis that subject indexing is in part a browsing process, and that using the vocabulary and its structure in a thesaurus contributes to the indexing process. The amount that the vocabulary structure contributes was found to differ among the 4 thesauri, possibly due to the vocabulary used in the corresponding thesauri and the structural relationships between the terms. Each of the thesauri and the manual indexing associated with it is characterized using the methods developed here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1330-1344
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • automatic indexing
  • ontologies
  • thesauri

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Information Systems
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Artificial Intelligence


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