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Systematic vs. Alphabetic Order

Document from The Zurich Project
"Vor- und Nachteile der systematischen und alphabetischen Ordnung"
Translation made by Sabine Michel 

Disadvantages  

Systematic

Alphabetical

Advantages

Disadvantages


What belongs together is not separated: sun, moon, stars, planets, comets, galaxies are all tied to the branch (i.e. come under the heading) of "Astronomy". 

Splits related subjects (the articles "War" and "Peace") and juxtaposes unrelated subjects ("Mammon" and "Mammoth"). 

Information can be found even if one does not know the exact terminology of its entry. This makes relatively open searches possible. 

The user must have a list of well-defined keywords (under "Crowfoot" he or she will not find Ranunculus acer, because it is filed under "Buttercup"). 

By indicating its position within the taxonomy, additional information about the object is given. 

Each item's position within the system has to be specially explained (causing redundancy). 

Translatability to other languages; to some extent the structure can even be said to be independent of language. 

It is possible to surmise where knowledge has not yet been sufficiently processed, and where there are knowledge gaps. 

Disadvantages   

Advantages   

The multidimensionality of the objects means that in many cases a single object should really be tied to several branches (i.e come under several headings), but this is precisely what the taxonomic system forbids (cross-classification) 

The same problem, although it is less evident! 

The user must know the shape of the tree in order to arrive at the desired piece of information; if he accidentally takes a wrong branch, he comes away empty-handed. ("Devilfish" cannot be found under "Theology", but under "Fish"). 

Greater ease of use for non-specialist readers because they do not need to learn how to use a specific system. 

Systematic classification is inflexible and cannot keep up with the ever-unpredictable development of the sciences. Modifications necessitated by scientific progress are difficult to achieve. 

Fresh knowledge can be incorporated simply by applying patches here and there. 

Remedies 

Remedies 

Alphabetical indexes, cross-references ("renvois") 

Systematic tables, charts, diagrams giving general overviews, cross-references. 

 
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