CRS Manual - Using the CRS Thesaurus and Agency function


Using the CRS Thesaurus


The CRS Thesaurus is a set of function descriptors that broadly describe the functions of the Commonwealth Government since Federation. The thesaurus is used for a range of purposes within the National Archives.


Functions reflect the responsibilities of an organisation or an agency that can be delegated through official channels. In the Commonwealth, a function is the business of a particular agency, which it has a legislative requirement to implement.

Business classification scheme

A business classification scheme is the set of functions that an agency carries out. It can be a list or it can be structured into higher level functions and lower level activities. Classification can also be used in other aspects of records management, such as determining when to create or destroy a record and who can or cannot see it. Australian Standard AS4390 (1995) on records management recommends that classification schemes and thesauri be based on functional analysis.


A thesaurus describes the relationships between a controlled set of terms used for titling and indexing records. It is a tool to help users find their way to the correct classification term. A thesaurus facilitates control and uniformity for precise, efficient retrieval.

International Standard 2788: Documentation – Guidelines for the establishment and development of monolingual thesauri (ISO 2788) contains useful definitions and detailed explanation of how a thesaurus works. Some of the more common terms, abbreviations and symbols are listed below.

Preferred term A term used consistently when indexing to represent a given concept Energy
Non-preferred term Variation of a preferred term, provided as an entry point directing the user to the preferred term Coal
use Energy
USE Prefix for a preferred term when a choice between synonyms exists Coal
use Energy
UF (use for) Prefix for a non-preferred term (synonym) Energy
UF Coal
BT (broad term) Represents a concept having a wider meaning Resources
NT (narrow term) Refers to a concept with a more specific meaning Resources
NT Energy 
RT (related term) Suggests a concept which may be associated Forestry Regulation
SN (scope note) A note to indicate a term’s meaning within the indexing language or thesaurus Regulation of the industry according to standards and legislation
HN (history note) Explains use of term over time Energy used after WWII 

History of thesaurus use within the Archives

The Archives has always used the Administrative Arrangements Orders as a source of creation of departments carrying out a responsibility for certain government functions.

During the 1980s work commenced on developing a thesaurus to assist retrieval at agency and series level. In 1991 the CRS Functions Thesaurus was introduced to help the public and staff retrieve agencies and series information held on the Archives' public finding aids.

The CRS Thesaurus is a list of contemporary broad and narrow terms that reflect the major functions and activities carried out by Commonwealth government agencies from the Federation to the present day. It is important to become familiar with this document so that an accurate attribution of functions can be made to agency information.

Thesaurus use within the CRS System

There are several thesauri deployed to manage information and improve retrieval:

Using the CRS Thesaurus

Determining whether to use the broad or narrow term

A broad term is used to describe a general level of activity. It is usually applied to functions carried out by Departments of State and their State offices. A narrow term is used to describe a specific activity and is usually allocated to lower level agencies with a more limited role.

A broad term should be used only when the agency carries out all the subsidiary functions; otherwise all applicable narrower terms should be listed.

Broad terms and their subordinate narrow terms should be used together only when an agency has lost or gained functions during restructuring.

The results of a search using a broad term will include all agencies attributed with the associated narrow terms. Assigning the most specific term to cover an agency’s functions is essential for effective retrieval.

Relationship between preferred and non-preferred terms

A non-preferred term is a synonym for the preferred (or thesaurus) term used to describe a function. Unlisted or non-preferred terms are included in the thesaurus with directions to indicate which terms should be used instead.

The use of preferred terms ensures uniformity throughout the functions that are assigned to agencies. Non-preferred terms provide an access point. If a non-preferred term is entered when searching by function, agencies whose function is described by the preferred term will be retrieved. For example, if the term coal is entered in the course of a search agencies associated with the energy function will be retrieved in the search results.

Deciding on the right term
  1. Having identified the functions through relevant documentation, the next step is to match these against precise terms in the thesaurus.
  2. Browse the thesaurus for available terms, including broader term, scope notes and related terms.
  3. Follow references from broader, narrower or preferred terms to choose the most specific description of the agency’s function. If the agency carries out all narrower functions, use the broader term. If not, list all narrower functions which apply. Use date ranges to illustrate how functions have changed over time.
  4. It is preferable to use the narrower terms, to improve precision of retrieval and reduce possible irrelevant results. Someone choosing Hearing services would prefer not to have agencies with the function Health as well.
  5. Match the possible choices against those of agencies most closely associated with the agency being described.
  6. It is always important to double-check that there are no discrepancies between the choice of terms from browsing the thesaurus and terms on existing registrations that are associated with the functions being researched.
Following the thesaurus structure

The following table shows how to use the structure of the thesaurus to move from a non-preferred term to the most specific term possible. There are many paths through a thesaurus and the ability to search online gives even more flexibility to the process. The larger the number of synonyms the more flexibility there is in locating the correct term.

Classifying CA 8425, RAAF Support Unit, Butterworth would involve the following thesaurus search.

Thesaurus term Analysis path
Armed forces Non-preferred term – Use Defence Forces
Defence forces See scope note – too broad, try a narrower term
Air force Look at narrower terms 
- Air Force Administration
- Air Force Commands
Air force administration Scope note does not describe functions of CA 8425
Air force commands Scope note mentions support units – check narrower terms
- Training (Air Force)
- Air Operations
- Logistics (Air Force)
Training (Air force) Air operations Narrower terms – these functions not carried out by agency, therefore broad term (Air Force Commands) cannot be used
Airports Related term – not useful in this instance
Logistics (Air force) Most specific term to describe the function of this agency - logistics generally indicates support functions

Areas of difficulty

The function of a superior or previous agency, which is being used as a source, could well be incorrect and in need of revision. It cannot be assumed that the existing function information is entirely correct and therefore should be followed blindly. The reasons why these discrepancies may occur and why the most recent research overrules previous allocation of terms against agency registrations are listed as follows.

Inconsistency Possible solution
Wrong level of function A broader term or narrower term should be selected; eg Community Services is more appropriate than Social Welfare
Function is wrong because the wrong agencies have been used as a source The agency having the functions added has been linked to the wrong superior agency or wrong previous agency
The function is right but the agency link is wrong The link should be replaced with a correct link which should then have the correct function
Right function but wrong date range Agency started function earlier than stated on registration. Most recent research will result in revision of the agency start date
A non-preferred term has been selected from the thesaurus Use preferred term, eg Coal instead of Energy

Relationship to ISAAR(CPF): 2.1.6

Agency function


Agency function is a term from the National Archives of Australia CRS Thesaurus that describes a major function or activity of an agency.


The purpose of the field is to allow readers to retrieve information about agencies by searching for administrative functions, compiled using controlled terms. It can also be used to track changing government activities over time.

Relative importance

This field must be completed where applicable, to provide essential context or facilitate management (category 2).

Sources of information

Information can be found in the CRS Thesaurus and existing agency registrations for superior, previous, subsequent or related agencies.

External sources include:

Standards for content

Enter the function exactly as it appears in the thesaurus, with the appropriate date range for that function.


It will be necessary to add a function to an agency which has assumed another functional responsibility and enter end dates for functions when an agency loses a functional responsibility.

Application notes

Each agency registration should include at least one function term and, desirably, all applicable terms.

Procedures for allocating functions to agencies

The research involved in allocating functions for agencies varies with the importance of the agency.

For new Departments of State or other high level agencies, external sources such as Administrative Arrangements Orders, Commonwealth Directories and any relevant legislation may need to be consulted to determine the functions of the new agency. This research would normally be carried out as part of the agency registration procedure.

For lower level agencies, such as regional offices of a Department of State, registrations for superior and related agencies, such as other State or regional offices of the same superior agency, are valuable sources of information. Information supplied by the agency itself as part of the registration process can also be used. The functions allocated to the superior agency can be searched through the identification module of RecordSearch and transferred to the subordinate agency if appropriate.

Identify and read relevant sources, selecting terms that describe the function of the agency. These may include functions retained from previous agencies or functions allocated when the agency was established. Controlled agencies and legislation administered can also provide a guide to the functions of the agency.

Once a function has been identified for the agency:

The following example of allocating a function from the CRS Thesaurus is given for agency CA 8770 HMAS Jervis Bay (II), a catamaran based in Darwin.

Function Broad and narrower terms for this term Agency examples
Navy BT - Defence forces

NT - Navy administration 

Scope note: Centralised policy making area

NT - Navy commands: no scope note

CA 46 Department of Defence (III)




Navy Commands BT - Navy

NT - Maritime Commands (Navy)

Scope note: All commissioned ships and shore based operations

NT - Navy support

Scope note: Includes all commissioned and non-commissioned shore based establishments

CA 4793 

Navy commandant of South Australia

CA 5607 

Navy officer commanding Western Australia area

Maritime Commands (Navy) Scope note: All commissioned ships and shore based operations CA 8322


CA 7025

HMAS Darwin

If a function administered by the agency is not listed in the thesaurus, determine whether there are any alternative terms in the thesaurus that may adequately describe the function of the agency. When a suitable term cannot be identified, ask for assistance from a supervisor, rather than allocating a  function term that is not entirely appropriate.

Re-read the registration to ensure consistency between:

Enter the function as it appears in the thesaurus into the agency registration. For more explanation on using a thesaurus see CRS Thesaurus. It is important to keep the function date range in line with the date range of the agency, where the period of the function coincides with that of the agency. A function may be with an agency for only a portion of the agency’s life, but cannot go beyond the start or end date of the agency.

Expression of dates

All dates in predetermined date fields are subject to validation to facilitate searching, sorting, validations and consistency in reports. It is not necessary to enter day, month and year if the full date is not known. Use a date qualifier only if the year is in doubt. (Unless notes are kept to indicate the part or parts of the date to which a qualifier applies, the use of the qualifier can be misleading, especially when just year ranges and qualifiers are presented in reports).

Date range conventions

Start date qualifier

(only if year is in doubt)



Start date


May 1952

23 May 1952

End date qualifier

(only if year is in doubt)



End date


Nov 1978

23 Nov 1978

Changing functions over time

The functions of a department or agency can change over time. Such changes occur when agencies are restructured, new functions are assigned to them or functions are moved to other agencies. It is important that the date ranges for the functions are consistent and that the range given for a function does not extend past the date when functions were removed, even if the agency itself continues to operate, eg

Agency title: Senate Legislative Committee on Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

Agency date range: 10 Oct 1994 -
Agency function:
10 Oct 1994Communications
10 Oct 1994Cultural affairs
10 Oct 1994Environment
10 Oct 1994 – 20 Oct 1998Recreation

It is also possible for an agency to lose a function and then regain it in another change. It is particularly important that the date range is correct in these instances.

Agency title: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Agency date range: 12 Mar 1971-
Agency function:
12 Mar 1971Audit
12 Mar 1971Cabinet
12 Mar 1971Ceremonial functions
12 Mar 1971Public service
12 Mar 1971-19 Dec 1972Royal Commissions
12 Mar 1971-Governor General
19 Dec 1972-20 Dec 1977Arts
20 Dec 1977-Royal Commissions

When the function lost is part of a broad term, use of the broad term is no longer applicable and must be discontinued. The appropriate narrower terms should be used instead. For example, if the broad term Social welfare is used and the agency later loses responsibility for pensions and benefits then Social welfare is no longer appropriate and must be replaced by the relevant narrower terms, eg

Agency function:

12 Jan 1972 - 15 Oct 1979Social welfare
16 Oct 1979Community services
16 Oct 1979Health insurance

Conversely, when a new function is gained, review existing functions to check whether a broad term may now be suitable.

Agencies retaining functions but moving departments

Agencies can move between different controlling departments without this affecting the functions for which they are responsible. The National Archives of Australia, for example, has moved between four different departments while its functions have remained constant.

Differing functions between national and regional offices

While national and regional offices usually carry out the same functions, occasionally different terms may be used to describe these functions. This may occur where the central office has broad responsibility for the function and the regional offices specialise in narrower areas. This is illustrated in the registrations below where the central office uses the broad term Social welfare to describe some of the functions it performs while the regional office takes two narrow terms, Community services and Pensions and benefits, thus eliminating some of the functions performed by the central office.

Agency title: Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency, National Office
Agency date range: 01 Jul 1997
Agency function:
01 Jul 1997 Education
01 Jul 1997 Social welfare
Agency title: Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency, Regional Office, Hobart, Tasmania

Agency date range: 01 Jul 1997 -
Agency function:
01 Jul 1997 Community services
01 Jul 1997 Education
01 Jul 1997 Pensions and benefits

Generally, however, the research required to determine these differences is extensive and unnecessary in most cases. Only distinguish the functions of regional offices from central offices when they are extensive, obvious or important.

Relationship to ISAAR(CPF): 2.1.6