Typology, the 'study or systematic classification of types that have characteristics or traits in common', has become a commonly used term and technique in coastal zone studies over the past two decades. At least part of this is due to adoption by the first Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ) project of a typological approach as a way to understand and organize the daunting diversity of natural and human systems comprising the world coastal zone, and to the concurrent development of tools and databases to support systematic applications. This paper reviews some of the history of the term 'typology' and the concepts and techniques that it subsumes, and discusses its adoption and adaptation in coastal studies. It also addresses the continued and increasing relevance of typology to the continuation of the LOICZ project and its objectives, and outlines the opportunities and challenges involved in realizing the potentials of the approach - both within LOICZ and for the scientific and coastal zone communities in general. ?? 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.