Terminology Guidelines: Well Worth Your While

This is the place where we regularly post our thoughts on terminology. We have already shared our ideas on Minimal Terminology Management or TermCloud, for example. Terminology guidelines are another important element of terminology management.

Why Bother with Terminology?

As product development processes grow ever more complex in today’s world, specialist vocabulary gets more and more, well, specialised. And people are increasingly sensitive to incomprehensible or inconsistent content. Many companies have already realised this. A study conducted by software manufacturer Acrolinx* puts content quality in direct relation to purchase decisions and brand perception. And we must not forget that low-quality, inconsistent content bears some legal risk as well.

According to a publication by the Institute for Applied Information Science*, up to 70 % of all errors in technical documentation may well be terminology errors. Once you get to grips with terminology, you have the power.

So the question is: how can you record and manage terminology which is comprehensible and consistent across the different languages and departments of a company?

Terminology guidelines are a good place to start.

What Do Terminology Guidelines Include?

Terminology guidelines are consolidated in an internal document which usually contains the following:

  • definition of a company-specific terminology workflow,
  • feature description of the terminology tools in use,
  • term creation rules (e.g. formation of compound nouns),
  • multilingual terminology aspects.

The process is usually initiated by the technical editorial team or the translation management department. The reason is simple: terminology is absolutely essential to the work of technical editors and translators. Their work can turn sour very quickly if there is a lack of properly managed, consistent terminology.

The Process is the Challenge

It does not take long to set up terminology guidelines, especially with professional help. But the content must be well thought through and should be internalised by everyone. Getting everyone in the company to accept the terminology management-related processes is the actual challenge here. After all, terminology is an interdisciplinary matter which requires the cooperation of a number of different departments (development, product management, technical documentation, translation, marketing).

And that requires an open, transparent internal process. All the involved parties must be aware of their own roles in this important matter. This can pose a major challenge, because different interests must be taken into account, and some colleagues may need some convincing.

As a language service provider, we can lend some indirect support by supplying you with information and argumentation aids, for example. It is also vital that you cooperate with your colleagues from the departments where the terminology is going to be created, used, and translated. You could hold a workshop, for example, to come up with a viable process from terminology creation to translation, approval, and use in everyday business.

You might want to start by raising everybody’s awareness for the importance of a standardised terminology process. Perhaps you can find a situation or two in your company’s past where the inconsistent or wrong use of terminology caused a problem. This usually helps people to understand the issue. And when you have convinced everyone and they are all in the same boat, you have already reached a very important milestone.

After that, it’s all about fine-tuning. Starting with the genesis of your corporate terminology, you need to clear up a few things: Where in the company are new specialist terms created? Who is creating them, and what is the approval process? How and where are specialist terms collected and communicated? How can you ensure compliance with the rules? Who is translating the terms into your corporate languages and who approves the translations? What are the software requirements to support this endeavour?

When you have come up with the answers to these questions, they will form your individual terminology guidelines. And these guidelines will not just be a document—the kind that doesn’t blush—but a living, breathing thing that encompasses the processes you all live by.

Our Conclusion

It does not take long to write up terminology guidelines. But they will be worthless if the corresponding process is not widely accepted throughout the company. This means that terminology guidelines are the result of an internal development and coordination process. And we at Gemino can assist you in that process.

*Global Content Impact Index, page 6, http://www.acrolinx.de/publikationen/der-roi-von-hochwertigem-content/

*Jörg Schütz, Rita Nübel: Evaluating Language Technologies: The MULTIDOC Approach to Taming the Knowledge Soup, page 241, In: Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Vol. 1529, Springer Berlin Heidelberg.