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Written by Steven Bussey
on February 20, 2020

Terminology management is a set of activities that ensures correct terms are used consistently in all materials.

These activities include collecting, developing, storing, reviewing, harmonizing, updating and distributing terminology data. Nowadays, terminology is managed with the help of software. It is either standalone and dedicated for this task, or part of a Content Management System (CMS), Computer-Aided Translation (CAT) Tool or Translation Management System (TMS). Terminology data is stored in a terminology database, or termbase, and a terminologist is the person managing it. In addition to a dedicated terminologist, various people in an organization participate in terminology discussions, decisions and implementations, whether engineers, marketers, developers, product managers, technical writers, editors or translators.

 

Benefits of terminology management

In high-risk fields such as medicine, military and law, problems of ambiguity or inconsistency have especially serious consequences and could cost lives. However, even with less sensitive material, there are clear benefits from terminology management. Here are a few:

  • Readability – Texts are easier to understand when there is no ambiguity or inconsistency. Readers will focus on what you are saying rather than struggle to get the intended meaning or stop reading because they don’t understand;
  • Image – Consistent use of terminology indicates good writing and projects a professional and confident image of your organization;
  • Subject matter expertise – Termbases are produced or approved by a specialist who is not a translator, while users of termbases do not need to be domain experts;
  • String lengths – String lengths are often restricted in software, gaming and mobile applications. Termbases will have pre-approved terms with correct string length;
  • Productivity – Translators and editors work faster and more confidently when there is a clear reference for the terminology. When there is a well-done termbase integrated with CAT tools, translators and editors see the terms automatically as they work instead of having to refer to an external document or researching online.
  • Cost – Fewer quality complaints and corrections lower the total cost of translation projects because higher quality materials require less work from editors and proofreaders;
  • Controlled language – Termbases are part of controlled language, which makes documentation easier and faster to index, search and manage.

 

Processes of terminology management

Terminology management consists of several phases:

  1. Proposal – collecting terms for a given domain. It can be done manually or by using term extraction software, which scans sources for frequently occurring words and phrases. Typically, the software looks for term candidates in databases of common industry terms and existing company materials. Thanks to advances in text processing capabilities terminologists can use very large bodies of text, called corpora, in their research.
  2. Verification – of the list of candidate terms to eliminate unsuitable ones. Terms that are already well understood, not specific enough, or that do not actually occur in company materials are removed at this phase. It is important to also eliminate inconsistencies by identifying synonyms and abbreviations. The challenge is deciding which terms to keep, since very large termbases become difficult to use.
  3. Description – means adding semantic information to the terms. The following common term categories are often used: definition, examples of usage, grammatical information, subject domain, and metadata such as date, location, and person who last updated the term (more categories in the table below).
  4. Adding other languages – Translators and linguists add other languages by entering the equivalent terms along with definitions, examples of usage and comments in the new language. Termbases can also be monolingual.
  5. Approval – Internal or external reviewers and company executives need to sign off on any changes before they are added to the termbase and distributed. It is important to clarify ahead of time who would have approval authority.
  6. Release – Approved termbases are released as reference materials to all interested parties in approved formats. The release can be done via a Content, Translation or Terminology Management System or by distributing the termbase files directly.
  7. Update – Periodic checks of the termbase health are important to keep it relevant and fresh. Are all terms still necessary? Are they well defined? Should new ones be added?

Type of information recorded in a termbase:

  • Term in source language
  • Definition in source language
  • Examples of usage in source language
  • Grammatical information
  • Subject domain
  • Term in target language
  • Definition in target language
  • Examples of usage in target language
  • Internal links between related entries
  • External links to information in other sources
  • Metadata: date, location, person who last updated the term, etc.
  • Hundreds of other categories are possible.

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