What You Need to Know to Get Started with Terminology Management
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What You Need to Know to Get Started with Terminology Management

Few things are more important when expanding into new territories than consistency and accuracy in your localized content. But how do you drive this? The key to consistent content is defining and managing your terminology before you start translating anything.

Our terminology experts recently held a webinar on terminology management and gave their insights into what is meant by terminology, why it matters and some best-practices on how to structure your approach to keeping your terminology consistent in both your source and target languages.

In this blog post, we’ll go over some of the highlights but to get the full picture, listen to the half hour webinar here or check out our ebook.

Why terminology is important

You have a foundational, highly-branded message that represents your company. Conveying this message accurately to all markets means repeatedly using the same meaning. Having agreed-upon terminology usage keeps your language clear across all your communication channels.

There are a number of reasons why your company might benefit from managing terminology but the key is that user experience (UX) improves with consistent, clear and accurate language. With accurate language, you will experience fewer customer issues, which will contribute to increased customer loyalty… which in turn means repeat purchases.

Terminology defined: concepts versus terms

Generally, a term is a word used to name a specific product, feature or service. It could be a branded term or related to a specific domain. It might be a word that has a high degree of complexity or one which is often misunderstood.

However, the foundation of terminology management is not actually the term: it’s the concept. A concept is an idea or thought described by a precise and complete definition. It’s unique; it doesn’t share itself with any other concept.

A term, on the other hand, is what we use to express a concept. It’s the concept’s linguistic identification. A ‘term’ is understood to be more specific than a ‘word’, because a term refers to technical language, not general speech. There may be several terms associated with the same concept (also known as synonyms).

At the same time, one term can be used to express different concepts. Take the term ‘resource’ for example. You can use it to refer to the concept of a professional person, a natural resource such as oil, gas or water or financial resources like stock options or cash. One term is describing three different concepts—each of which would be found in their own unique entry.

Tool or no tool?

First, you should differentiate between a glossary and a termbase.

A glossary is a list containing translations and some metadata such as definition, domain, usage, etc. A common glossary format is an Excel spreadsheet.

Termbases are databases containing concepts and related information with comprehensive metadata. Termbases are much more robust and flexible than glossaries because you can store more data in them than you can in Excel and they offer better options for filtering, searching, exporting, analyzing and reporting data. Termbases are often managed in terminology management tools and a glossary can be converted into the correct tool format and imported.

Glossaries are inexpensive and quick to set up. They’re a great place to start. They can always be imported into a more comprehensive database at a later date. A simple glossary can be more user-friendly when you begin to work with a small number of concepts in multiple languages.

A terminology management tool, on the other hand, is a software tool designed for collecting, structuring and maintaining your terminology. It should be customizable and designed around concepts. This is the technology that manages the rules you’ve created around your terminology—where you add, maintain, store and search concepts, terms and their metadata.

Which you create is your choice. The complexity will depend on your needs. Your chosen terminology management system will be unique to your business and its requirements. When selecting one, it’s important to be clear about your needs and get input from relevant stakeholders. This will help you identify the right process as you ask potential vendors for trial versions.

Before moving to a full terminology management system, it’s important to fully understand your current and future needs so the investment you make in a product will give you long-term benefits.

How to manage terminology

Terminology management is the systematic work of collecting, describing and managing your concepts and terms. Before you get started, you need to consider a number of things to manage terminology in a way that’s right for your business. These considerations include workflows, roles and responsibilities and time, budget and resource constraints.

The terminology management process takes your terminology from content creation through to approval. Here’s a generic terminology workflow:

  1. Term extraction and selection—You can extract terms from your current content or collect them based on what’s relevant to your business.
  2. Definition and metadata enrichment—This supporting information allows you to designate and name a concept as we look to stay concept-oriented.
  3. Approval of source terms—The stakeholder group agrees to the source terms.
  4. Target term research—This is your due diligence on the target term which will make sure it correctly expresses the concept.
  5. Target term validation—The target terms are agreed.
  6. Term change management and maintenance—Target terms and concepts are always subject to change so term management review cycles and change procedures are put in place.

Starting the journey

The first thing to do is to figure out your current situation. What is your process around terminology? Is it non-existent, ad hoc or somewhat structured? Does it work for your purposes? You may well have some kind of glossary that already exists but is it up to date? Is its usage and structure consistent? Do all your internal stakeholders and external suppliers use the same version of it?

Once you have answered these questions, it’s important to on-board the right group of people and begin working with a small number of concepts.

The most important step in starting the journey is… starting the journey. After all, you cannot avoid having terminology. Every organization that sells a product has concepts and terms unique to their business.

Start as early as possible. The longer it’s left undone, the more complicated it can be to address in the future and the more detrimental it can be to your brand.

For more details about terminology management, check out our webinar here or read our ebook, The Basics of Terminology Management