Terminology: Necessary Evil or Bare Necessity?
Terminologists have an arduous task. They need to translate terminology into money. How? By presenting convincing examples of terminological mistakes and their consequences in a corporate setting. And there’s nothing that terminologists all over the world would like more than to know that CEOs, CIOs, or CTOs are interested and ready to invest in a well-structured and fully developed terminology database.
In Support of Terminology
In reality, thanks to the explosion of the new economy, terminology has already spread without any CEO, CIO, or CTO noticing. In the ‘90s newly-born web portals needed taxonomies to categorize and make information researchable and relevant, as well as to prevent users from looking through every single resource. Today, in content management systems, taxonomies also help content creators find and re-use content.
Terminology, taxonomy, and related disciplines like library science are the foundation of modern fields of activity such as knowledge architecture, SEO, search engine development, and knowledge management. It’s therefore not an exaggeration to say that terminology is an essential tool for knowledge transfer, be it on paper or digital format.
The Misconception About Terminology
The general belief is that terminology is related only to language and translation. This is probably the reason that almost no one, be it a corporation or a language service provider, is interested in investing in it. Terminology is seen as a part of the translation workflow and a necessary evil that no one wants to turn into an element of their own core business. However, this belief is only true to a certain extent. Here are a few facts and figures to prove this statement.
- Knowledge workers spent 15% to 25% of their time searching for information.
- Searches were successfully completed only 50% of the time or less.
- Only 21% of workers found the information they needed 85% to 100% of the time.
A 2010 Tekom survey — as presented by TermNet in their Terminology Management course — showed that:
- In 85% of the cases, different departments within an organization use different terms for the same product.
- In 70% of the cases, employees use different terms for the same concept.
- In 50% of the cases, employees don’t understand terms in the product they are documenting.
Knowledge is a commodity that can be accessed anywhere and anytime we want. But this knowledge needs to be organized, and terminology is essential to this end because it is at the center of every single task we perform today.
Terminology from Content Creation to Translation
At what point should terminology enter the content life cycle?
Terminology should come before the creation of any kind of content.
A well-structured termbase will help improve accuracy in technical documentation and reuse content units.
As well as helping writers select the right terms for any concept, with a terminological database at their disposal they will make your content easy to find. At the same time, using of the correct terminology will improve the accuracy and clarity of a corporate message, thus reinforcing branding and protecting an organization from negative consequences.
Terminology is central to the development of controlled languages, to build termbases from which they can extract a limited vocabulary of unique terms and concepts.
A limited vocabulary may help reduce ambiguity and complexity. When combined with simplified grammar, a controlled language is obtained that can help technical writers avoid long, convoluted sentences, thus improving the overall readability, comprehension, and usability of technical documentation. Furthermore, a controlled language will also help cut translation times and costs by reducing the number of words in source content and improving content consistency.
The task of creating a termbase for your company might sound daunting, but it’s not really. Keep in mind that, like in the case of translation quality, the “good enough” principle is valid for terminological work as well. It’s better to begin by collecting the minimal data necessary and then build upon it over time.
- Manual terminology extraction (also called text mining) is fine for small texts. For larger texts, there are various open-source terminology extraction tools, either in desktop or (even better) online versions.
- Once you have your first bundle of data, collect it in a file. Avoid using Word, because it doesn’t allow for much flexibility. Some terminologists are also dead-set against spreadsheets (like Excel), although personally, I don’t mind. If you’re just starting out and lack the skills, the time, or the inclination to create a complex termbase — for example, using MS Access or a specific tool — a spreadsheet is a viable, practical option. Among other things, it offers the Advanced filter dialog box and boolean logic to help you search your file. Most importantly, a spreadsheet can also be saved in .csv format, which is the most accessible and compatible of formats when it comes to importing a termbase in your translation management system (TMS). I know there’s TBX too, but we’ll deal with exchange formats and standards another time.
- Don’t restrict yourself to a two-column spreadsheet. In addition to source and target term, enter also other data elements. The most commonly used data categories are: definition, status, department, client, project, product, part of speech, domain, context, and illustrations.
Finally, choose a TMS that fits your workflow and import your termbase. You’ll make your translators happy, while saving time and money.