Problems do not have unique or official names. Many of the problems profiled have two or more other associated names associated to reflect different keywords and ways of describing them. Some have up to ten names. The alphabetic list, based on a single name per problem, is therefore an essentially arbitrary ordering of the problems. As a random presentation of the contents of the database, it has the advantage of drawing attention to the variety of concerns faced by individuals and groups.
Problems in the Encyclopedia are also coded into categories, designed to distinguish the more general and fundamental problems from those which are more specific or detailed. These categories include abstract fundamental problems (which tend not to be considered sufficiently tangible to appear on the agendas of international organizations, e.g. apathy, corruption, greed, etc); basic universal problems (used for major cross-category world-wide problems which tend to be prominent on the agendas of international organizations, e.g. war, environmental degradation, etc); cross-sectoral problems; detailed problems; emanations of other problems (including combinations of other problems); exceptional problems (used for "fuzzy", extraordinary or potential problems); and very specific problems. For more information on this coding system see World Problems: Type Codes.
Problem profiles contain various descriptive elements of the problem including name, description or definition, incidence or extent, and importance. This is followed by cross-references of two types: 'hierarchical' which include links to broader, narrower and related problems; and 'functional' which includes links to problems that aggravate or are aggravated by, reduce or are reduced by, the central problem in question. There are also cross-references to other database sections within the research area of the Encyclopedia including Global Strategies and Solutions and Human Values. Cross-references also extend to other databases and information deriving from the separate research areas of Bibliography relating to the Encyclopedia and International organizations. For a more detailed overview of the problem profiles, see Entry Content and Organization.
The world problems and issues presented are those recognized by over 20,000 international organizations (profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations) and other constituencies -- for which the Union of International Associations serves as an information clearing house. Some of the problems may be recognized by many organizations, others may only be recognized by loose networks, movements or isolated groups of experts.