Process optimization

Word perfect: 7 steps for effective terminology management

Finger pointing to an entry in a dictionary

They say the first step is the hardest, and introducing terminology management is no exception. But it will pay off. Not only does it help internal and external communication, but it will also reduce how much you pay for translations. If you’re not sure where to start, these seven steps will help you manage your terminology more effectively.

Many businesses know the importance of terminology, and that an in-house company glossary is a valuable tool for producing consistent corporate language. Some of them learn that the hard way, after they find out (often after texts have been published) that the programmers talk about A, the technical documentation team talk about B and the marketing people talk about C – and A, B and C are in fact the same thing. When these texts are sent for translation, the problem only intensifies. However, most businesses have limited resources and aren’t sure how best to go about the “Big Terminology Management Project”. But it’s easier than you think, if you break it down into small steps:

  1. Analyse the status quo and clarify who’s responsible for what
  2. Establish rules 
  3. Produce an in-house company glossary with source-language terms
  4. Define the processes
  5. Make everyone at your business aware of this issue
  6. Fill in the glossary in the foreign languages you need
  7. Keep the glossary up-to-date

In an ideal world, all this should be set in motion before your first translation project. But if that ship has already sailed, don’t worry: it’s never too late.

Step 1: Analyse the status quo and clarify who’s responsible for what

First, you need to know what the current terminology situation is at your business. There’s a good chance that the different departments will have their own lists of terms – so before anything else, you should collate and sift through them. In this initial stage, you should also clarify who’s responsible for coordinating this project and who’s the main terminology contact person at your business. This will be important later on, when new terms need to be approved (see Step 4).

Step 2: Establish rules 

The next step is to think about how you want terms to be written and entered in your glossary. For example, if your machinery has a door, is it opened with a “handle” or a “knob”? Do you make “pop-up” products or “popup” products? These rules and guidelines should be established and incorporated into your style guide. 

Step 3: Produce an in-house company glossary with source-language terms

Before going any further, you need to make sure everything is clear in your source language. All specific in-house terms for your products, which might previously have been saved in various lists and folders in different places, now need to be “tidied up” and collated into a single, company-wide glossary – including their definitions and a clear indication of which terms are used for which components/products. Clarity is the top priority, especially for your customers: if they’re confused because different terms are used for the same component, that’s a problem.

Terminology management tools with different access rights

Various management tools are available for these kinds of glossaries, but Excel tables and OneDrive documents aren’t really suitable. Ideally, the tool you choose should enable different access rights to be assigned. All staff should of course have access to the glossary, but not everyone should have write permissions – you don’t want all your efforts to go to waste as a result of random entries made by someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. The glossary should also be easy to search, and you should be able to integrate the tool into your authoring system. That way your technical editors can benefit from your glossary while they’re writing your texts.

Step 4: Define the processes

You also need to define the processes for entering terms. How does everyone know when new terms are added or old terms are replaced? How are forbidden terms or spellings entered in the glossary? How do approvals work? Terminology management has to be viewed as an ongoing process: whenever terms change, the glossary should be updated.

Step 5: Make everyone at your business aware of this issue

Creating your company glossary/style guide and defining your processes is a big step towards managing your terminology effectively. But it won’t help much if only those people involved with the glossary use it and work on it in future. Everyone at your business needs to be on board with your terminology project: you need to make sure they’re all aware of the importance of terminology and know that you have an in-house glossary that must be followed, otherwise you run the risk of each department continuing to do its own thing. And everyone should also know who’s responsible for which processes. Compare awareness of terminology with awareness of a business’s mission and vision. At many businesses, they’re deeply ingrained into all staff – and terminology should be the same!

Step 6: Fill in the glossary in the foreign languages you need

If you communicate with your customers in more than just your native language, you’ll need to think about multilingual terminology management. Many translation agencies offer tools that make this easy and convenient, but you still need to establish who’s responsible for entering the foreign-language terms. If you have offices in other countries, one option is for the staff there to fill in the glossary. The other option is to enter terms during translation projects, so that you gradually build up your glossary.

Step 7: Keep the glossary up-to-date

Terminology management is an ongoing process. Just having a glossary isn’t enough – you need to keep it up-to-date by replacing outdated terms, removing double entries, and if necessary entering forbidden terms or spellings. Ideally, you will have people at your business specifically responsible for this. After all, each double entry reduces the added value of your glossary, but if you’re on the ball and regularly take time to maintain and improve your monolingual or multilingual glossary, in the long run you’ll reap the rewards:

  •  Communication becomes clearer and less ambiguous, both internally and externally
  •  Texts are quicker to produce
  •  Texts are easier to understand
  • Customer satisfaction improves
  • Translation costs go down

If you have any questions about how to introduce effective terminology management across your business, we’re on hand to guide you through the process – from selecting the right tool to building up your foreign-language glossary.


Click here to download our e-book all around terminology management.


Main image: © Adobe Stock