Process optimization

Small words make a big difference: why terminology management shouldn’t be the poor relation at your business

Terminology management

Terminology management is a word that can send a shiver down people’s spines – “time-consuming”, “stressful” and “complicated” are just three of the words often used to describe it. But it doesn’t have to be! Smart systems can make managing terminology simple and efficient from the start, improving your internal and external communication processes and saving you time and money.

A business can only succeed if all staff and departments are on the same page, and that means they all need to speak the same corporate language. To do so, everyone should know what particular terms, product designations and so on mean – but often that isn’t the case. Each department ploughs its own furrow, and often they create their own term lists in Excel files. That means products might be referred to differently in marketing texts, the product catalogue and in the technical documentation, which will only lead to additional costs and, in a worst cast scenario, serious and life-threatening errors when using the products.

The more people are involved in developing a product or a process, and the more sites a business has around the world, the more likely there will be a mess of terms, e-mails and Excel glossaries that can be hard to make sense of. The solution is terminology management! And it doesn’t have to be a mammoth undertaking, if you know what you’re doing and have the right tools.

Term bases – dictionaries for your own business

Effective terminology management depends on all the important terms being compiled and managed in one place. Online term bases, dictionaries for your own business that can include additional information such as definitions, spellings and images, are ideal for this. Once a term has been entered into the term base, all your staff can access it to ensure the texts they produce use the correct terminology – and this in turn makes working with external customers and service providers much easier.

Smart terminology management for less stress

It’s never too late to start managing your terminology. But it’s also true that the earlier you start, the simpler and more efficient the process will be.

By entering terms in the term base when starting product/process development, you can prevent that mess of Excel spreadsheets and disorganized lists of terms from arising in the first place.

And term bases aren’t just for one language combination: you can enter terms in as many languages as you need. You can tell the translation agency which translations should be used for specific terms when you order the translation, or alternatively you can ask the translators themselves to add the correct foreign language terms to the term base as they go.

What works for poets won’t work for translators

Poetry and literature comes alive thanks to its colourful and varied range of expressions, both in the original and in translation.

But when translating operating manuals, contracts or descriptions of machinery, what matters more than anything else is accuracy and consistency – and for that to happen, the terminology in the source text needs to be clear. If not, the translator will have to spend time researching terms or sending questions to the client when they come across inconsistent terminology, which takes time and can cost money.

Businesses that create and maintain well-organized term bases not only make the translators’ work much easier and quicker: they also help ensure their texts are translated consistently in the long run.

Maintaining term bases

It’s not enough to simply create the term base and then do nothing: it needs to be regularly maintained so that it doesn’t become “overgrown” or outdated. When a product line is discontinued or a new line is introduced, for instance, the term base entries need to be adapted accordingly. One common issue is double entries and synonyms – these should be removed to make sure everyone involved knows which terms are to be used. After all, if there are five possible translations for a particular term, the translator will be just as confused as if there were no term base at all.

Although maintaining a term base is an ongoing job, it’s convenient and easily manageable thanks to state-of-the-art web-based tools (some of which can be accessed via internet browsers). These systems allow multiple members of staff at sites around the world and/or translators to access terms and edit them if necessary, making sure your term bases are up to date. And they can make a huge difference to your business.


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Main image: © MEINRAD