The first of three major design objectives defined for the IRDS was it contain the major features and capabilities found in existing dictionary systems.
The second design objective was to make the IRDS as flexible as possible, in recognition of the fact that no single standard will be able to satisfy the unique requirements of all users.
The third major objective was that the IRDS support portability of skills and a wide range of user environments.
The FIPS IRDS specifications include a collection of entity-types, attribute-types, and relationship-types comprising the core system-standard schema.
The IRDS architecture is based on the entity-relationship (E-R) model  and is comprised of the Information Resource Dictionary (IRD) and the IRD schema.
The structure of the IRDS is similar to a semantic network where entities are the nodes, and relationships are the arcs that connect nodes.
The ACCESS-NAME is the primary name with which the user will interact; it should be short for ease of use and must be unique throughout the IRDS. The DESCRIPTIVE-NAME allows a more detailed and meaningful name to be assigned to an entity so that the brevity of the ACCESS-NAME is not a restriction; it must also be unique throughout the IRDS.
The core IRDS must support the description, manipulation, and control of entity-, attribute-, and relationship-types as well as particular instances of the same.
IRDS population, maintenance, and output refer to the creation, manipulation, and display of actual entity and relationship instances involving the data about the information resources themselves (as opposed to the logical description of the resources).
An important IRDS output is the impact-of-change report, which lists all entities affected by a change to one or more other entities.
However, building an organizational IRDS is a complex task, and one can reasonably expect that, like any large information system, it will change dramatically during its development life cycle.
The FIPS IRDS specifications provide a standard core from which dictionary systems can be implemented.