Inventory Basics - How to Describe Your Inventory Items

A Rose by any other name is still a rose, but you won't be able to find it.

NOTE: In this section, we assume that you already have a list (or partial list) of the items that you stock.   And we make these recommendations here so that you can evaluate the quality of your item descriptions as they currently exist and make changes now, before you move on.   If you DO NOT have a list of items already, or you have a lot of items missing from your lists, you may want to create your item description list as you perform your starting counts as described on the How to count your inventory items page. Either way, you should read this section to familiarize yourself with good practices for creating item descriptions. 

Colored plastic cups are use to illustrate the hazards of poor inventory item descriptions.
 

How to Create Good Inventory Item Descriptions

Tips on Creating Good Item Descriptions:


  • Most Important: Inventory item descriptions should begin with a noun (what the item is) followed by the adjectives that describe the item (in descending order of the adjective's importance).   This is so important that we offer a much more detailed and illustrated example below!
  • Inventory Item Descriptions should be unique
  • Avoid loading inventory item descriptions with more information than absolutely necessary. Information such as vendor names, manufacturer, country of origin, expiration dates, and so on belongs in the "item details", or" transaction details", areas where it can be used more effectively.

A Detailed Guide:

The single biggest mistake people make when describing items, is to describe them in the same way that they talk about them.

Consider this example:

Two cups illustrate the hazards of poor descriptions of inventory items.

What we talk about when we talk about cups (fig. 11)

We all describe things this way, and you will certainly refer to them this way in your day to day operations, but there’s a big difference in the way we talk about things, and the way they get stored and presented in a system or database.  You will often find yourself looking at printed lists of your items, or lists on a computer screen.  And these lists will usually be arranged ALPHABETICALLY.

Consider these two lists:

List A
Large blue soda cup
Large blue soda lid
Large brown coffee cup
Large brown coffee lid
Large brown coffee sleeve
Large brown coffee stirre
Large white coffee cup
Large white coffee lid
Large white coffee sleeve
Large white coffee stirrer
Large yellow soda cup
Large yellow soda lid
Medium blue soda cup
Medium blue soda lid
Medium brown coffee cup
Medium brown coffee lid
Medium brown coffee sleeve
Medium brown coffee stirrer
Medium white coffee cup
Medium white coffee lid
Medium white coffee sleeve
Medium white coffee stirrer
Medium yellow soda cup
Medium yellow soda lid
Small blue soda cup
Small blue soda lid
Small brown coffee cup
Small brown coffee lid
Small brown coffee sleeve
Small brown coffee stirrer
Small white coffee cup
Small white coffee lid
Small white coffee sleeve
Small white coffee stirrer
Small yellow soda cup
Small yellow soda lid
List B
Cup, coffee, large, brown
Cup, coffee, large, white
Cup, coffee, medium, brown
Cup, coffee, medium, white
Cup, coffee, small, brown
Cup, coffee, small, white
Cup, soda, large, blue
Cup, soda, large, yellow
Cup, soda, medium, blue
Cup, soda, medium, yellow
Cup, soda, small, blue
Cup, soda, small, yellow
Lid, coffee, large, brown
Lid, coffee, large, white
Lid, coffee, medium, brown
Lid, coffee, medium, white
Lid, coffee, small, brown
Lid, coffee, small, white
Lid, soda, large, blue
Lid, soda, large, yellow
Lid, soda, medium, blue
Lid, soda, medium, yellow
Lid, soda, small, blue
Lid, soda, small, yellow
Sleeve, coffee, large, brown
Sleeve, coffee, large, white
Sleeve, coffee, medium, brown
Sleeve, coffee, medium, white
Sleeve, coffee, small, brown
Sleeve, coffee, small, white
Stirrer, coffee, large, brown
Stirrer, coffee, large, white
Stirrer, coffee, medium, brown
Stirrer, coffee, medium, white
Stirrer, coffee, small, brown
Stirrer, coffee, small, white

"A Tale of Two Lists" 
The lists have the same content, but the descriptions are different.
(fig. 12)

Finding one item on either list is easy, but what about looking for groups of items? More often than not, you’re going to need to view your items by their type, and not their size or color. Anything can be small, large, blue, red, etc.. . But a “cup” is a “cup” and a “lid” is a “lid” etc... List A is great if you need to locate all of the large things in your facility, but that request will happen about never. “Quick, get me all of the large stuff!” On the other hand, List B is great if you need to locate all of your cups, and that mission is much more likely.

List A makes it easy to find adjectives, while List B makes it easy to find things. And your inventory is a collection of things, not adjectives. Using the description format we recommend, you’ll be able to view similar items at a glance, and spare yourself from hunting through your item lists. What kind of information should be contained in your item descriptions? Anything required to uniquely identify an item and no more. For instance, if the brand name of an item is important, then it should be in the description, because it’s different from a similar item of a different brand. But if the brand doesn’t matter to you, then you should leave it out of the description. Also, don’t put information like the location, expiration date, or other temporal qualities into the description. These things are better tracked in “Custom Transaction Fields”


Next: ""How to Create Good Inventory Item Numbers"