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What is terminology work?

Terminology work checks technical and company-specific terminology and clearly determines which terms shall be used consistently in all documents within the company, and which terms shall be prohibited.

Example

During the design stage, a working title for the new product is chosen. From then on, this working title is the term that will be used for the future product in all documents and meetings. Later, the correct title is determined. This term is used consistently in price lists, marketing documents and technical documentation. With terminology work, the correct term is entered into a terminology database and is from then on mandatory for all members of staff and for all documents. All departments have to update their documents. That way, they can all benefit from the terminology work.

Why is terminology work necessary?

With an increasingly globalized economy, terminology work is getting more and more important. Technical documentation, such as user manuals or operating instructions, are not only translated into European languages, but also into many more languages for a global market. Thus, translation costs rise dramatically. With consequently implemented terminology work, documentation departments can make a big contribution in limitting those costs.

However, reducing translation costs is not the only reason to do terminology work. With a consistent use of terms, costs can be reduced within the documentation departments, as the reuse rate of modules in content management system can be increased.

In companies serving a global market, terminology can become an instrument for quality assurance. One can check in texts and in their translations, if the predetermined terminology has been used correctly.

Furthermore, various departments in a company use technical terms: product design, research and development, testing, technical documentation, translation, sales, marketing, as well as customers. Consistency in both internal and external communication are welcome side effects of the definition of technical terms.

Clear communication increases credibility and customer retention, and consequently results in a better image of a company.

Examples: Causes for inconsistent terminology in technical documentation

  • Several terms for one subject
    manufacturing, production
  • One term for several subjects
    Change management in a development department stands for the traceability of changes on the product. In other departments, it stands for corporate strategies.
  • Different spelling of a term
    organization, organisation
  • Untransparent terms
    Terms which are not self-explanatory

Terminology work includes the following tasks:

  • Separate common language terms from professional terms
    Terminologists draw on reference manuals and check, if a certain term is documented and if it is defined correctly for the chosen case of application. If it is not, the term is added to the terminology database.
  • Determine and define terms
    During the development of a product, new terms are determined for processes and products. The term and its definition are developed in a team. After that, the term is integrated into the terminology database.
  • Determine which synonyms may be used and which are prohibited
    After the term is defined, the team determines which synonyms are allowed and which are not. This is then saved in the terminology database.

The data in the terminology database contain both linguistic and technical information about a term as well as metadata. The terminology entries are used as a reference for translators and serve all employees as a glossary.

How to work on terminology

For a start, we recommend to document the status quo: First, examine the current state of the terminology. Then, compare the use of the terms with the respective definitions.

For an efficient terminology workflow,  many different departments have to cooperate. In a predefined process, developers, marketing managers, technical editors and translators report new terms.

A major challenge is the change management. It has to be clearly defined who is allowed to undertake changes in terminology and how a change is reported to all terminologists. After that, it has to be communicated that the change in terminology has to be adopted in all documents.

Only when a viable concept for the terminology process has been defined, there will be a decision on the most suitable tool.

Conclusion. Terminology work: Yes or No?

Setting up a well-founded terminology demands a considerable effort. The longer you wait with the introduction, the more effort becomes necessary, as the old stock of terms is always growing.

Terminology work is tedious: Many different departments have to take part in the terminology work and have to reach agreements. However, it results in numerous benefits and improvements which save costs. In service, products and components are named very clearly, technical documentation becomes easier to understand. The greatest cost-saving potential, however, is in translation. The research time for translators is much shorter and there are less queries to the author.

Not all effects of terminology work can be measured directly. For example, with effective terminology work, there are less misunderstandings in internal communication and meetings. Also, the incorporation of new colleagues is made easier. Unfortunately, it is very hard, to measure these frictional losses and to connect them to terminology work.

Altogether, we cannot find many arguments against terminology work.

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