Terminology work, terminology administration, and terminology management involve compiling, defining, disseminating, and maintaining specialized terms and company-specific proprietary terms according to defined and uniform rules. These specialized terms are also referred to as designations or terminology. A key part of terminology work is formatting the resulting database in such a way that the entire enterprise can benefit from the work.
The result of terminology work is terminology. According to the DIN 2342:2011-08 standard, terminology refers to specialized vocabulary, that is, the universe of terms and their designations in a given subject area.
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Terminology work in an enterprise serves to improve corporate language and reduce translation costs. It is also the basis for machine translation.
Why do companies need to do terminology work?
1. It strengthens the corporate language:
You’ve almost certainly heard of the concept of corporate language before. Corporate language is a component of a company’s corporate identity. The concept of corporate language relates not only to the individual language style of a company but also to the complete universe of company-specific terminology. The goal of all of this is uniform communication, improvement of the corporate image as perceived by the outside world, and better recognizability of the company as a whole.
2. It reduces translation costs:
Source texts are more consistent when editors use consistent terminology throughout their writing. This consistency largely means that only similar words and text modules need to be translated. In translation management, we talk about fuzzy matches and 100% matches in the translation memory. These known segments cost less to translate than brand-new ones. Moreover, uniform terminology means that fewer iteration loops for correction are required, which also reduces the related costs. A tekom survey demonstrated that annual savings of 30% can be achieved in this way.
Corporate language bolsters the company’s image as perceived by outsiders.
3. It’s the basis for successful use of machine translation:
If you are considering using machine translation in your company, you should first invest in terminology work. After all, a machine produces results that are only as good as what it has been taught. For the output of the machine translation to be usable, you need to use terminology that is as “clean” as possible. Post-editors also benefit from this, as uniform terminology enables them to work faster and better.
There are a variety of different consequences if a company fails to invest sufficiently in terminology work.
To explain what we mean here, let’s take the fictitious company of Sneaker LLC, which specializes in the production of sports shoes, as an illustrative case. If no terminology work is done, several terms will be used for the same concept within the company, such as sports shoe, running shoe, sneaker, and athletic shoe. In addition, Sneaker LLC has a single term that is used to refer to several different concepts: In the marketing department, “article” means a text written for a magazine or blog. In purchasing, an “article” is a raw material for which an order is placed, for example. Then there is also the legal department, which first thinks of a section of law when the word “article” is mentioned. Last but not least, Sneaker LLC additionally has to deal with a number of different spellings of a single term: customer number, customer-number, customer no., and so on. Sneaker LLC urgently needs to kick off a terminology project in order to bring about uniformity.
Terminology data is crucial training information that allows the quality of machine translation to be improved.
The tasks of terminology work
The tasks of terminology specialists within the company are wide-ranging and primarily include the following three aspects:
- Finding terms for new products, parts, and processes (in collaboration with the team) and adding them to the terminology database with definitions, spellings, and pictures.
- Designating permitted and taboo synonyms as well as documenting them in the terminology database.
- Updating the terminology database and reviewing new proposals from within the company.
Implementing terminology work in a company
If you have not previously done any terminology work in your company, you may not know where to start. The first step is always the hardest, but if you take a structured and incremental approach, the work will no longer be so daunting. Before you get started with the actual work, ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is to be responsible for terminology work within the company? Will the company do the terminology work in-house, or should an external partner (usually a language service provider) help out?
- Which departments and employees should have access to the terminology database?
- Do glossaries (Excel spreadsheets) already exist in the company, or will it be necessary to extract all of the terminology from existing texts?
- Who should be able to propose, change, and approve new terms?
And in regard to the last point – it’s important to define the various roles from the very beginning. In order for a terminology database to be and remain structured, we recommend that the ability to edit the terminology not be open to everyone. However, there is a great store of knowledge contained in every company, and this vast expertise should definitely be incorporated into the terminology work. It should therefore be possible for employees to propose terms for subsequent review and approval.
For terminology work to be efficient, all of the departments need to work together towards a common goal. The key players in the process are employees working in the areas of technical writing, translation, development, and marketing. Synergies emerge when everyone cooperates, and this results in terminology that is consistent, useful, and vivid.
Terminology work is a complex undertaking. Nevertheless, terminology is often just stored in Excel lists and made available to the employees of the organization in this format. There are obvious disadvantages to this approach, with countless versions of glossaries circulating and staff members who do not have immediate access to new terms and revisions. This quickly leads to confusion as well as errors, whether in technical documentation, marketing, or sales.
To prevent this from happening, the company should instead use a terminology management system in which all involved in terminology do their work. A major advantage of tools for terminology work is that interfaces can usually be used to integrate tools of this nature into other programs. For example, tools for terminology work can be embedded in the editing tools of technical documentation, in the translation tools of language service providers, or in the content management systems used in marketing.
For more help with terminology work, please see these articles:
- On the Tip of Your Tongue? How Terminology Work Can Help You
- Reducing Costs by Integrating Terminology into Your Organization
- Machine Translation for Companies
The bottom line: The benefits of terminology work
In many organizations, terminology work is not high on the list of priorities. This is unfortunate, because the advantages are obvious: Uniform terminology strengthens corporate language as well as corporate identity, which in turn increases sales, customer satisfaction, and customer loyalty. The company also saves money during editing and translation, since internal iteration loops for coordination and correction are reduced in number, for example. In addition, terminology work is one of the most important steps before machine translation can be implemented, because the output of the translation engine may not be good enough if the terminology is not consistent.
It’s never too late for a company to begin engaging in terminology work. However, the longer you put off tackling this task, the more complicated it becomes to make the terminology consistent. There’s no time like the present to finally get started!
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