The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is developing an integrated biomedical informatics infrastructure, the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG®), to support collaboration within the cancer research community. A key part of the caBIG architecture is the establishment of terminology standards for representing data. In order to evaluate the suitability of existing controlled terminologies, the caBIG Vocabulary and Data Elements Workspace (VCDE WS) working group has developed a set of criteria that serve to assess a terminology's structure, content, documentation, and editorial process. This paper describes the evolution of these criteria and the results of their use in evaluating four standard terminologies: the Gene Ontology (GO), the NCI Thesaurus (NCIt), the Common Terminology for Adverse Events (known as CTCAE), and the laboratory portion of the Logical Objects, Identifiers, Names and Codes (LOINC). The resulting caBIG criteria are presented as a matrix that may be applicable to any terminology standardization effort.