Terminology in the Microsoft Manual of Style for technical communicators

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This is a great reference document, freely available online in PDF format (click here to download the PDF directly to your computer or google it as filetype:PDF).

The 2012 4th edition is “your everyday guide to usage, terminology, and style for professional technical communications” and includes several sections such as “Terminology and word choice” and “Acceptable Terminology”.

Besides being an excellent guide, it gives you a general idea of how terminology is handled–particularly if you are into localization–to keep the “Microsoft voice” as they call it when referring to the importance of consistency.

I have extracted from their manual a few examples of the terminology-related principles of Microsoft style, which may serve as a guide for your own terminology management activities.

  1. Consistent terminology promotes learning technical concepts and a better understanding of them: Inconsistency in terminology forces users and translators to figure out whether different words and actions mean the same thing, which leads to confusion. Using consistent terminology can also decrease translation and localization costs. Examples of inconsistent terminology include the following: (i) switch, toggle (ii) start, launch, boot (iii) burn, copy.
  2. Don’t minimize complexity: Avoid overusing subjective terms such as easy, fast, fun, and so on.
  3. Don’t invent words or apply new meanings to standard words. Assume that users are more familiar with a word’s established meaning than with a special meaning given to it by the technology industry. When an industry term is required, provide an in-context definition. Avoid jargon, but remember that some expressions specific to computer use, such as hacker, are already part of everyday speech.
  4. Use context to reduce ambiguity: Some words can be read as both verbs and nouns, such as file, post, input, screen, record, report, and map. When using these terms, ensure that the context and sentence structure reduce ambiguity.
  5. Use words accurately and consistently: Use one term to represent one concept, and use terms consistently. This guideline is particularly important for technical terms, but it also applies to other words. Although the use of synonyms may be more interesting to read, users may assume that your choice of a different word indicates a subtle distinction.

These are just a few examples, so I recommend you take some time to browse through this excellent guide!

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