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Ontology Contributor Pathway

Description: These guidelines are developed for anyone interested in contributing to ontologies to guide how to contribute to OBO Foundry ontologies.

Why should you contribute to ontology development efforts?

Ontologies are routinely used for data standardization and in analytical analysis, but the ontologies themselves are under constant revisions and iterative development. Building ontologies is a community effort, and we need expertise from different areas:

  • Technical expertise
  • Domain expertise
  • User experiences

The OBO foundry ontologies are open, meaning anyone can access them and contribute to them. The types of contributions may include reporting issues, identifying bugs, making requests for new terms or changes, and you can also contribute directly to the ontology itself- if you are familiar with ontology editing workflows, you can download our ontologies and make edits on a branch and make a pull request in GitHub.

Providing Feedback to an Ontology

  • The preferred mechanism for feedback for almost all OBO Foundry ontologies is via the ontology's GitHub issue tracker.
  • To find the correct GitHub issue tracker, go to the OBO Foundry website website and search for a particular ontology.
  • For example, click on go (Gene Ontology), and you should see a link to the tracker (
  • The OBO Metadata also has a link to a contact but this is generally for OBO administrative purposes and should not be used for general questions, new term requests, or general feedback
  • Some ontologies may have other means of engaging their use community, and these should all be listed in a standard way on the OBO page. This includes mailing lists, slack groups, and Twitter or other social media accounts.

Getting Started with GitHub

  1. Open a free account at
  2. GitHub Fundamentals for OBO Engineers. Provides an introduction to GitHub including:
  3. how to get started
  4. an overview of the organization of GitHub
  5. an introduction to Markdown (the simple markup language used in GitHub to format text, like bold or italics)
  6. types of content that can be added to GitHub (e.g., you can attach a screenshot to an issue)
  7. Intro to managing and tracking issues in GitHub. This tutorial walks you through creating issues in GitHub.

Using Ontologies and Ontology Terms

Contributing to Ontologies

Community feedback is welcome for all open OBO Foundry ontologies. Feedback is often provided in the form of:

  • New terms requests
  • Add/revise synonyms, definitions
  • Reclassify a term
  • Report a bug
  • etc.

Ways to provide feedback

  • Create a new issue on a GitHub issue tracker
  • See the lesson on Identifying missing terms
  • See the lesson on Making term requests to existing ontologies
  • Join the discussion: Comment on tickets or the discussion board
  • Join the conversation: Attend ontology calls (many ontology developer groups have recurring calls open to the community. Contact the ontology owner to request information about calls.)
  • Edit the ontology file: make changes on a branch and do a pull request (more advanced)
  • See the lesson on Contributing to OBO ontologies

Relevant Presentations