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A Users’ Guide to AO3 Tagging June 11, 2013

Posted by Erin Ptah in Meta.

On the AO3, you’re allowed to tag your works in any way you want.

But if what you want is the tags that are most standard, most searchable, and/or most wrangler-friendly, here’s a short guide on how to do it.

(A backup of the text originally posted on the AO3 itself.)


Your author is a library science grad student, and an AO3 tag wrangler since March 2012. There’s not supposed to be jargon here, but feel free to ask for clarification if any of it slipped in.

If one of the linked system-breaking tags happens to be on your fic, and you’ve fixed it, or just want the link removed, let me know and I’ll change it ASAP.

Disclaimer: A founding principle of the AO3 is that we (administration and volunteers alike) don’t tell users how to tag. In accordance with that principle, everything here is presented on an “only if you want to” basis.



  • Use the Tag Search to look up tags you’re curious about. You can search the entire tag database or narrow it down by category, and you can limit it to only canonicals if you’re looking for existing standards to use.

    (NB: “Canonical” just means “a tag that has been standardized by wranglers, and can be filtered on,” not “a tag for something that happens in canon.”)

  • Tag pages show things like what category a tag is in, and what tags are related to it. If you’re on the list of works for a given tag, you can click the tag name at the top of the list to get to the tag page. You’ll also get direct links to these pages in the Tag Search.



  • Use the full name of the fandom.
  • Don’t use a metatag when you’re already using one of its subtags. (You can see metatag/subtag relationships on a tag’s page.) For example, if your fic is tagged “Elementary (TV)“, you don’t need to tag it “Sherlock Holmes & Related Fandoms“. It will already show up in that listing anyway.
  • If your fandom has the same name as another one, make sure you’re specific in your tag. So if you’re writing Avengers fic, and it’s about the 2012 Marvel film, use that tag or something directly related. Fans of the Avengers TV series with Emma Peel will thank you.
  • For crossovers, enter the names of both fandoms, separated by commas.



  • Full names, in the order of the original canon language (so “John Sheppard“, but “Uzumaki Naruto“).
  • If someone has a generic name that is shared by characters in other fandoms, the tag will need some kind of disambiguation to make it specific to your fandom. For example, use “Beast (Kuroshitsuji)” or “The Beast (AtS)” or “Beast (Beauty and the Best)“, and avoid the too-generic tag “Beast“.
  • If someone has multiple names/identities, you can include a nickname in quotes (“James “Bucky” Barnes“) or separate the two identities by a pipe (“Tsukino Usagi | Sailor Moon“). Different fandoms have different ways of handling this. Check the other characters in your fandom to see what the standard is.




Freeforms/Additional Tags

This is the open-ended category. Just try to make sure all the tags refer to things other people might want to search for.

Some possibilities: a work’s genre (“Fluff“, “Hurt/Comfort“), tropes (“Case Fic“, “Amnesia“), kinks (“Breathplay“, “Bondage“), extra information about characters (“Drunk Tony Stark“, “Toph Being Awesome“) or pairings (“Past Peggy Carter/Steve Rogers“), the kind of AU you’re writing (“Alternate Universe – Historical“, “Alternate Universe – Circus“), the story’s location (“France (Country)“, “Aslan’s Country“).

(As always, don’t use ambiguous names when referring to a character. “Drunk Tony Stark”, not “Drunk Tony”.)

How to find out if the freeform you want is already in the system…?

Your best friend here is the tag search. Even if you can’t find a tag for the exact term you had in mind, try looking for for a workable synonym. For example, “anxiety attacks” is not a canonical tag, but if you search for “anxiety” and “attacks” separately, you can find both “Panic Attacks” and “Anxiety Disorder“.


How To Avoid Creating “Unwrangleable” Tags

  • Don’t use long, meandering, idiosyncratic tags (“Tumblr-style tags”). If you want to say “Dylan is very bitter and very messed up but we all love him anyways,” or “I have so many headcanons and feelings in general for modern!Les Mis,” or “someone I know really wanted me to make this,” put it in the summary or author’s notes.
  • Don’t combine two or more thoughts into one tag. “Angst but also fluff but also humor” should be “Angst”, “Fluff”, “Humor”.
  • Don’t split one thought across two tags. The tag “or something” is meaningless on its own.
  • Don’t forget to separate tags with commas. Otherwise you create Frankentags, such as the relationship “SasukexOC NarutoxHinata SakuraxSasuke” or the character “Seras Victoria. Alucard (Hellsing)“, and wranglers have no way to break those up.
  • Don’t put your tags in the wrong categories. We also can’t re-categorize “Blaine Anderson – Relationship” or  “Brittany Pierce – Freeform” or “Jasper Hale/Alice Cullen – Character“.

Wranglers are not allowed to tell users
when they’ve created a Frankentag, or put a character in the Relationship field, or made a very obvious typo, or anything else that might cause problems for the system. It’s officially against the principle of “we do not tell users what to tag.” You have to do your own double-checking (or ask a friend to help out).



And that’s that! Do all of the above, and you will have elegant, searchable, AO3-standardized tags — and cut down on wrangler workload while you’re at it.



Wait, I Still Have Questions!

For more tag help, try the following:

  • Look at the tag wrangler guidelines, available in the AO3 FAQs. These cover most of the special cases you’re likely to run into. (What to do with a canonical AU version of a character? How about a commonly-used fanon character? How do you format a relationship with an OC? Etcetera.)
  • Contact Support and Feedback with questions, general tagging comments, and any errors you’ve spotted (e.g., character tags in your fandom that should be filterable, but aren’t yet). Your request will go directly from Support to Tag Wrangling — or it might get addressed by a Support person who’s also a wrangler.
  • Ask in a place like the unofficial OTW forum and fail_fandomanon. Both are known hangouts of wranglers and support folk who enjoy answering questions.
  • Leave a comment here. If I can’t help you out myself, I’ll make sure the question gets passed on to someone who can.

(General feedback/concrit/etc about this guide itself is also welcome.)



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