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Professional Corporate Terminology Management: Tips and Tricks for a Successful Introduction

By: Silvia Cerrella Bauer (euroscript) - AMPLEXOR International S.A.

16 March 2009

This article provides readers interested in professionally managing corporate terminology with hints and practical tips on successfully implementing terminology management in an organization.

Scope and general goals of corporate terminology management

Corporate terminology is the process of systematically gathering terms that are primarily used in corporate documents and deliverables. Any organization active at an international level needs to make its deliverables available in various languages, and the terms collected need to be explained, described, updated and made available to different target groups within or outside the organization. 

Professional terminology management is predominantly prescriptive, i.e. the use of certain concepts and terms of the terminology collection is regulated. Their use can become mandatory for several reasons: these concepts and/or terms are organization-specific or used exclusively by the organization, their use is banned since they either do not comply with the organization’s language conventions, or simply because they are used by the competitors.

Through their spoken and written language, organizations are constantly creating terminology, irrespective of whether they manage it or not. The question is whether the terminology generated is systematically used in a standardized fashion or not. Professionally managed terminology promotes corporate language and makes for unequivocal communication between the organization and its staff, partners and stakeholders. Terminology management underpins information management processes within the organization and is thus of strategic importance.

Project concept for introducing terminology management in an organization

Introducing terminology management internally can be met with some objection. Therefore, it is wise to develop a classical corporate communications approach to elaborate the relevant project concept. A well-devised communication strategy is the key to obtaining the go-ahead from the decision makers. 

The figure below shows the different phases of a terminology management project according to the concept model described:


Figure 1: Project concept for introducing terminology management in an organization, taken from a corporate communications’ perspective

Strategic Steps

The strategic portion of the project comprises analytical and strategic phases. In the analysis phase, the object of the project must be clearly defined by the project initiator (or the project team). This includes formulating the needs for terminology management and specifying the problem areas which will benefit from it. The strategic phase entails defining the goals, target groups and strategies for reaching both of them.  

Goal development is critical. The medium- to long-term goals of the terminology management should be highlighted at this stage. Any terminology management project typically pursues goals of a quantitative and qualitative nature, including: 

  •   harmonizing the content (print, digital) in the source and target language
  •   increasing translation quality
  •   promoting the organization’s corporate language
  •   strengthening a consistent and distinct organization image
  •   reducing authoring and translation costs
  •   reducing/avoiding customer complaints
  •   shortening release deadlines (software, publications)

The strategy should depict the ways of achieving the results expressed by the goals at each stage of the project. The purpose of the terminology collection must be understood at this phase. It is necessary to clarify and argue whether the resulting product is intended to become a supporting instrument for existing business processes, a binding repository for fostering knowledge transfer organization-wide, or, a differentiator for distinguishing the organization from its competitors through its language, and hence a “must-have” for successful localization and internationalization projects.

Target groups of a terminology management project often include: 

  •  Technical writing
  •  Content and documentation management
  •  Language services (translators, translation managers, terminologists)
  •  Product management
  •  Software development
  •  Customer and staff training
  •  Procurement and purchasing
  •  Sales
  •  Legal and compliance
  •  Marketing and PR

Operational Steps

The operational dimension includes implementation, in which targeted measures are planned to ensure project fulfillment according to a given schedule. This requires allocating the necessary material and human resources to carry out the project. Finally, the evaluation phase assesses the quality of the product and the underlying production processes, and recommends, corrective measures if necessary. 

The main operational aspects of introducing terminology management are shown in the following figure:

Figure 2: Elements for implementing the project for introducing terminology management in an organization

Frequently, the project team carries out professional terminology management tasks in addition to their everyday business assignments. Generally, this "voluntary work" is taken on by staff members within the technical documentation or the language services department (if such services exist internally), because these domain specialists are directly involved in the documentation and localization processes requiring professional terminology management. A major task consists of testing the technical solution supporting the process. When choosing a tailor-made or off-the-shelf – either open-source or commercial – terminology management system several factors should be considered, such as compatibility and interoperability with existing software applications (e.g. translation memory systems, content management systems, enterprise content management systems, information management systems), data security and system stability requirements and support functionalities (languages, client and online environments, data model and interface customizing, statistics functions). Beginning with a standard solution and later switching to a proprietary solution is also an alternative. Finally, budget specifications or restrictions influence the choice as to resource allocation, project schedule and the scope of the relevant measures planned. 

The milestones of a project for introducing terminology management can be summarized as follows:

  •  Kick-off with the potential users and beneficiaries
  •  Reaching consensus for the project 
  •  Elaborating the project concept
  •  Concept approval
  •  Project implementation planning
  •  Performing the preliminary tasks
  •  Starting with terminology production

Project concept: support for the terminology management business case

In many cases, practitioners aiming at introducing terminology management in their organizations do not have a mandate from management for such an initiative. Finalizing the project concept will help get management support. .

One approach is to propose two different strategies (as defined above) to achieve the planned project results: one with a relatively high level of investment and time commitment within a short period, and the other with a modest initial investment and a longer time span for achieving the intended targets. This approach helps the project initiators to show their readiness to make certain concessions, without compromising on quality requirements.

The concept should estimate the investment of time and work needed for the preliminary tasks. It also should estimate the return on investment time when the time and money saved as a result of terminology management is greater than the time and money invested in the project and the recurrent terminology-related tasks (annual fixed costs). The project team can refer to indicative benchmarks to formulate the relevant cost calculations. Some benchmarks derived from practice are listed in the following two figures. Figure 3 benchmarks time needed for terminology management; figure 4 itemizes benchmarks on time saved by means of terminology management, based on statements published by recognized organizations and practitioners.

Initial/recurrent efforts Task description Average time and effort
Initial efforts Selecting term candidates for import into the terminology database (TDB) * 50 to 100 term candidates per language and hour
 Completing the terminological data (term + definition + context sentence) in the TDB * about 30 term per language and hour
Recurrent efforts Term capture ** - about 3 terms + definition per language and hour
- about 20 terms + context sentence per language and hour
 Processing/Validating/Updating the terminological data * about 1000 terms per language and hour or 10% of the term entry costs

* according to P. Oehmig
** according to M. Hernandez

Figure 3: Indicative benchmarks of time needed for terminology management

Business process Statement on time savings Source
Translation "A properly prepared glossary can save translators as much as 20 percent of the translation time necessary to perform research, cutting down significantly on the translation period." Source link
 "Philips estimates that managing corporate terminology centrally could reduce their translation costs by more than 15 percent.“ Source link
 It can be assumed that, through the harmonization and standardization of the terminology (and phrasing) in the source texts, about 20 percent of the initial translation costs can be saved. Source link
Software localization When localizing an application, of the strings which consisted of about 20% technical terms, about 32% time savings were achieved, since a terminology database containing about 70% of the technical terms to be translated was available at that point. Source link
Technical writing When using a content management system (designed at supporting technical writing processes by means of the reuse of text modules), in combination with a professionally managed terminology database, the costs for producing technical texts can be reduced by about 5%. Source link
Corporate knowledge sharing and transfer through database queries A terminology database featuring a critical mass of representative terms covering all areas and languages relevant to the intended users) and made available to an organization's staff members, can lead to savings of up to 9-10 minutes per staff member and successful term search. Source link

Figure 4: Indicative benchmarks of time savings with terminology management

Furthermore, the project team should also point out what would happen if terminology were not (or continued not to be) managed. The extent of the risks caused by the use of an incorrect and/or inconsistent terminology in the source language(s), as well as of an ambiguous terminology in the source and target language(s) could be highlighted by listing examples of "defective" terminology (K. J. Dunne, 2007) ascertained in the corporate documents and deliverables. Figure 5 outlines these considerations.

Problem Description
incorrect terminology incorrect term for a given concept
inconsistent terminology different terms for the same concept
ambiguous terminology same term for different concepts

Figure 5: Problems and risks without terminology management (according to K. J. Dunne, 2007)

Having a concept before getting started with terminology management introduction provides clarity as to its scope and purpose, defining clear tasks and roles for the parties involved on the basis of a consensus and delivering valuable findings (possible deadlines and investments scenarios) to create a relevant business case. The greater the gap in the perception as to the necessity of managing terminology professionally, the greater the need for a defined project concept to support a proposal to management.

Tips and tricks related to the project concept

  •  Take the time for eliciting the needs for terminology management as you see it and as seen by the different target users and beneficiaries. 
  •  Define the scope of the project on the basis of the stated needs.
  •  Use the SMART model for formulating the project goals. SMART stands for "specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely" and is applicable in many management contexts.
  •  Be sure to furnish qualitative goals with hard figures. 
  •  Begin the project by taking small steps at a time (e.g. pilot project involving the terminology related to a given product or service, or project with an initially modest budget/production volume).
  •  Define intermediary goals as project milestones on a short-term and a long-term basis.
  •  Draw up at least two scenarios for introducing terminology management: with either a lesser or greater investment and either a shorter or longer time span within which to attain the expected results.
  •  Articulate the benefits for as many users and beneficiaries as possible. 
  •  Outline concretely how terminology management will be integrated in the (current or future) working processes of the target users and beneficiaries.
  •  Elaborate an easy-to-understand project concept which reflects the target users' and beneficiaries' “lingo”.
  •  Form a representative project team and make sure to include members from the various locations (if applicable).
  •  Assign modest time parameters for the project team members and appointed specialists.
  •  Choose the terminology tools according to the processes in place or to be set up, and not vice-versa.
  •  List the costs and time needed for the preliminary tasks separately from the recurrent tasks.
  • Choose the appropriate timing within the organization's schedule when submitting the project concept to management.

Terminology as a product

The terminology management product deliverable is the terminology collection, that is, the technical terms and the term-related data systematically stored and updated in the organization's languages.

The project team should establish the structure and format in which the terminology collection will be made available to the target groups, the scope of the terminological data contained in the collection, and the quality requirements that the data will have to fulfill. Figure 6 illustrates the key aspects of the product deliverable "terminology" to be defined by the project team.

Figure 6: Key aspects of "terminology" as a product deliverable

Terminological data model

The terminological data model shows how the terminological data is represented and organized within the chosen terminology management system. The smallest unit in the terminology management system is the terminological entry. Each completed entry contains all the terminological data relevant to a given term. 

The terminological entries can be more or less comprehensive depending on each project framework (e.g. languages, subject fields, roles and tasks of the project team, terminology management goals and target groups etc.). As stated by Müegge, U. (2007), ISO 12620 (Terminology in computer applications – Data categories) lists almost 200 possible data categories for a terminological entry, whilst ISO 12616 considers only three as mandatory: the term, the term source and the entry date. LISA’s terminology standard TBX (TermBase eXchange) proposes ISO-based data categories designations for representing terminological data, aimed at standardizing terminological data exchange among different users and systems. The data categories can be designated either in compliance with ISO 12620 or with user-specific needs. 

The project team decides on the scope (mandatory and optional data categories) of the terminological entry and the "granularity" (e.g. the level of detail, or attributes, featured by a given data category) of the terminological data within each entry, depending on what can realistically be managed and processed regularly. For example, the team may declare the subject field as a mandatory data category if the terminology collection is intended to cover several subject fields. The term source is regarded by many specialists as a “must have”, since this data category allows conclusions to be drawn on the age and quality of the terms even long after the initial entry. A definition costs time and money but delivers useful information for delimiting terms that can be crucial when choosing a proper translation equivalent. Assuming that one of the terminology management targets is to promote the organization's corporate language, it is necessary to ensure that attributes related to term usage can be assigned to the terms whenever relevant. The target groups will be thus able to identify whether a given term is preferred by the organization, whether it is just a synonym to the preferred term or whether it is a deprecated term that is not to be used. The latter attribute is especially important for ensuring consistent and correct authoring output.

The lists of variable values (so-called "picklists") should be restricted to a minimum, since eliminating superfluous or outdated values (and picklists) is a time-consuming task in the environment of many standard terminology management systems. In short, the choice of a flexible data model is imperative to address the specific terminological needs.

Terminological data quality

The project team must also consider the criteria for choosing the terms to be included in the terminology collection. The criteria may include the frequency of the use in external sources, the opinion of internal domain specialists, the occurrence in established internal and/or external sources, internal language guidelines, established norms (DIN EN 15038, ISO 16642 etc.), or a weighted combination of two or more of these criteria. In some cases, consideration may have to be given to the term lifecycle (maximum time period after which terms may become obsolete) and archiving.

In the context of technical documentation processes, the need for coining new terms in the source and target languages is high. Hence, particular attention has to be paid to establishing rules for term formation. These rules can handle, for instance, spelling issues (lower and upper casing, hyphenation), compound term formation, shortening/abbreviating terms etc. ISO 704:2000 (Terminology work – Principles and methods) delivers a set of standard rules for this purpose.

Procedures for validating terms and for ensuring consistency at entry level and at term collection level should be defined as well. Project team members and/or external parties may be assigned roles and tasks, and workflows designed to check terminology for its correctness, consistency and status (e.g. updated, revised, outdated). Finally, since a product is only as good as the extent to which its intended recipients actually use it, it is crucial to ensure that user feedback regularly flows into the term data update process. Terminology management systems featuring a link for automatic e-mail generation in the interface of each term entry allow users to contact the terminology management team and provide feedback on individual terminological data. Statistic functions are a useful feature for monitoring the number of successful and unsuccessful term searches performed within given time periods and provide hints on how to complete or adapt the terminology collection. Surveys on user satisfaction are finally another possible measure for gathering user feedback.

Tips and tricks related to terminology as a product

  •  Model the terminological data according to established terminology management principles (compliant with ISO 704:2000). 
  •  Manage your terminology data on the principle of: “as much as necessary and as little as possible”, whilst still complying with the “minimum requirements” set for a terminological entry.
  •  Define the quality criteria for your terminological data.
  •  Get terminology-related training or address terminology specialists/consultants.
  •  Keep to the standards for terminological data exchange (such as TBX-Lite from LISA).

Terminology management as a process

Terminology is not an end product. It changes and develops constantly. A well conceived terminology management process is the precondition for ensuring a successful development of the terminology collection. Tasks and roles are to be assigned and workflows for capturing, updating and validating terminological entries are to be designed, aimed at meeting the quality requirements set for the terminology collection.  

  • Building up a document corpus (representative texts, magazines, specialist publications, translations, dictionaries and/or glossaries etc.)
  • Consulting specialists within the organization to define the subjects to be covered in the terminology collection
  • Testing, choosing, installing a terminology management system
  • User training for the terminology management system
  • Data modeling (database configuration-related tasks and definition of a model for terminological data input)
  • Setting general guidelines for the future terminology management practice (e.g. in the form of a manual or handbook)
  • Gathering, consolidating, extracting existing terminology (provided by internal or external parties) 
  • Revising, sorting out, converting preselected existing terminology
  • Importing terminology into the terminology management system

The pace at which these preliminary tasks are completed depends on the available resources at this stage of the project and on the chosen goals and strategy. Task sequence will also vary accordingly. Acceptance tests of the terminology collection, involving representatives of the potential users and beneficiaries groups, are recommended in order to make sure that the quality expectations are met. The terminology collection should only be disseminated organization-wide once it has reached a critical mass of representative and validated terms. The choice of an appropriate communication strategy to entice potential users and beneficiaries to acknowledge the existence of the collection is also crucial. Depending on the size of the organization and the corpus, as much as a year can elapse from the point of terminological data dissemination until assessment of the terminology's user rate becomes viable. 

Successfully achieving the preliminary tasks is the first step along the way. The benefits of terminology management do not become apparent until at least two years after continuous development of the terminology collection. Fortunately the benefits increase incrementally in the long term.

Tips and tricks related to terminology management as a process

  • Target continuity, not perfection.
  • Make sure that terminology management is integrated as early as possible in the document and deliverables production processes to eliminate gaps between authoring/design and development and translation.
  • Define the extent of the terminology production according to the content that every terminological entry will have to feature and the scope of the terminological data validation.
  • Ensure term recognition in all processes involving the use of and/or reference to terminology.
  • Enter all relevant product names and trademarks before disseminating the terminology collection for the first time.

Silvia Cerrella Bauer is the operations manager for the translation and terminology services provided to the financial clients of euroscript Switzerland AG. The company is a subsidiary of euroscript International, a provider of content life cycle solutions. Prior to joining euroscript, Silvia was responsible for the language services department of SIS SegaInterSettle AG, a Swiss financial services provider for the securities industry based in Zurich, from 1999 to 2008. Apart from her role as translation and terminology manager, her position has included the management of software localization processes. She has participated as a speaker at various international forums on translation, terminology and technical documentation and has published a number of articles related to these subjects. Since 2007, Silvia is the Co-chair of the International Relations Committee of ASTTI, the Swiss translators, terminologists and interpreters association. Silvia is a certified conference interpreter and a certified terminologist. She holds a post-graduate certificate in Corporate Communications.


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