This series offers some insights from the many workshops and presentations on terminology that I have done over the years.

Now let’s move on to more complex things – you need to decide what a term is.

If you take the view of a dictionary, a term is something that needs to be explained. But make no mistake, mostly the general words, words that everybody knows and seems to understand generate most of the problems when creating or translating text. Words like cap, bolt, device etc. seem to be so general that you would not put them into a company dictionary and therefore also not into a terminology database. But these are exactly the terms that will produce most of the questions and misunderstandings.

Mostly, because they are used as the short form of a longer term. Instead of talking about a “multiple-output generating device” in every second sentence, you would probably use it once or twice and then shorten it to “device”. Everyone who reads the text will see what you mean – but what if this text comes out of a content management system? A translator might get a small module to translate where the long form of the word in not to be found – how should the translator know what “device” exactly the text is talking about?

In this case a good terminology database that states the word “device” as the short form of one or several longer terms and gives some explanation what it is and how it should be translated in different circumstances, can help a lot.

When deciding on what a term is in your special case, try these categories:

  • Everything that has to do with your company and differs from other companies.
  • Everything that is special to your products and where a term differentiates between you and your competitors although you are producing the same thing (keep the term of the competitor as a forbidden term).
  • Things that are special to the subject matter area you work in.
  • Things that need an explanation (don’t forget the everyday words here)
  • Abbreviated forms, acronyms, slogans, mission statements

And now we are at a point where terminology work can get messy and starts to grow uncontrollably.

In order to keep things manageable, limit the terminology collection to the source language and to one product (maybe the base product for others or the most used product). Once you have collected the most important terms here, you can move on to other products or other languages.


(Trainer for translation tools since 1997)