How terminology management helps to increase productivity

terminology productivityThe second of the four series of free webinars by SDL Trados, coordinated by Kate Smith, SDL’s Field Marketing Manager, “How terminology management helps to increase productivity” was in charge of Barbara Inge Karsch, a well-known terminologist who has worked for J.D. Edwards and Microsoft, and teaches the online Master’s Program at NYU. She is also a delegate to TC 37 and Chair of ATA’s Terminology Committee. The video lasts 45 minutes and you can it watch here.

She started by going over the basic translation process which starts with reading your translation and understanding its content, then you research concepts and find equivalents, translate and edit. The research stage is related to terminology and the analysis of meaning. You mark up unknown terms and names, do the relevant research (on the Internet, consultations with the client, asking experts, etc.) and the information you obtain is used to produce a translation that is accurate.

Why should we document terminology?

Barbara explains that once you have done your research you want to be able to reuse it. If you don’t document you can’t reuse. Based on her experience, 90% of the time is spent researching terminology and 10% documenting it in a terminology management system (TMS). There might be some reluctance in documenting your terminology because it takes time, but she provided some tips to do this quickly.

But first, she referred to a study by Guy Champagne of Canada that measured how long it took a team that worked on product documentation to research a term and the result was an average of 20 minutes. Based on her own experience, it takes 18 minutes to research a term and 2 minutes to document it (that is, add it to a termbase). This is a good benchmark that you can use to give the client a general idea, although sometimes it takes less time when you follow the rules and know what you should document, but 20 minutes seems to have become an industry standard, she added.

The study also found that on average 5% of terms require researching and if you have to deal with a wide variety of documents or if you deal a lot with one client, terminology management then is highly recommended.

The process of terminology work includes 4 steps: (i) extraction of key terms, names and concepts identified in the source text; (ii) research and documentation of the terms in the terminology management system (TMS); (iii) distribution to vendors or freelancers, which more and more includes an authoring process in which the source text is checked for spelling errors and corporate language; and (vi) feedback and maintenance in which you update your termbase when, for example, a client asks you to change a term. Usually between 5% and 10% of term entries need to be changed, but if you have done an effective documentation process this could take less time.

What to document?

First, she went over the type of lexical units that you don’t document, such as words that belong to general language (that is, they are not technical terms) and words that do not represent a concept (that is, there is no meaning behind them and therefore might be ambiguous). For example, marketing terms sometimes don’t have concepts behind them and you can’t define them very well and if you are dealing with large teams you might create a lot of confusion.

Technical terminology that belongs to a subject field has to be documented. Terms that represent general concepts and names that represent individual concepts (that is, they only exist once in the world) are usually included. Terms may refer, for example, to different types of “windows”, and a name may also refer to “Windows” Microsoft’s operating system. You may include, for instance, product names, organization names, and company names.

You can also include abbreviations, homographs (terms have multiple meanings: they have the same spelling but there are different concepts behind their spelling), synonyms.

As refers to abbreviations, she gave two examples of terms that she had to deal with while working at J.D.Edwards: (1) MRP could be used for “manufacturing resource planning”, “materials requirement planning”, “mid-range planning”, or “maintenance recovery period”. MRP is an example of a homograph, an abbreviation that has different meanings; and (2) business unit could be abbreviated as “BU”, “Business U”, “B/U”, or “bus. unit”. Actually, Barbara and her colleagues collected about 14 different abbreviations for this term, and therefore it is be key to first do some control to the source language. Managing this type of terms in your TMS will help you have a better control.

As refers to synonyms, she gave the example of “USB flash drive”, which can take the form of many other terms that have the same concept behind them, such as, memory key”, key chain, key drive, pen drive, flash drive, and many others. It took her team a lot of time to figure out that those terms were referring to the same object.

Freelancers have an advantage because they own their termbases and have some leeway in terms of making decisions on what to include. You can even document in your TMS terms that you really have a hard time typing, for example, the German term “Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung” (referred to auto insurance). In her translation career she had to deal a lot with terms like this and it was very useful when she could just copy them from the termbase when she was working.

Of course, she was not recommending that you include all the terms that are hard to type, but just the ones that you decide you need and add them under a special category. Actually some terminologists with a more purist approach would not include this type of terms, but from a practical point of view, you as a freelance translator who manages your own termbase are the one who ultimately makes the decisions to get the most out of your TMS, even if it´s just a typing help.

As long as you follow terminology best practices and ISO standards you should be OK, because you never know what you might want to do with your database down the road. You might join a team and share your termbase with them or with a colleague. It´s critical in databases that we apply standards and we follow them.

How to document it?

We can document terminology in, ideally, a terminology management system or in a spreadsheet if we are not ready to invest in a TM system, but from her experience working with different companies, information recorded in a spreadsheet usually doesn’t follow terminographical rules. The idea behind using the rules is that you will be more productive and efficient, because your TMS will perform faster and more accurate searches if you do follow them. Also, if you have to share your terminology with other stakeholders, following the rules will make other people’s work easier and avoid confusion.

Always document your terms in their canonical form [by “canonical” Barbara means in its most rudimentary form.

  • Nouns are entered in singular form, not plural (with rare exceptions like “data”), not capitalized, and not preceded by definite or indefinite article: Use “window” not “Windows” or “the window”. If it’s a proper noun such as “United Nations” obviously you would leave it in plural form and not “United Nation”, or “The Bahamas” would keep the article too (but not “Bahamas, The”). In other words, list names in their spoken order.
  • Verbs are entered in their uninflected form (not preceded by “to” and don’t use the gerund form “-ing”). For example, “forecast”, not “to forecast”, “forecasting”, or “forecasted”.
  • Adjectives are entered in the positive, uninflected form; for example, “familial”.

In her final remarks for freelancers, she indicated that you as a translator have to do the terminological research anyway, so spend two extra minutes to put it in your TMS. She added that with the information she provided you might even get it down to 30 seconds. Also, learn what terms are appropriate to your termbase and become proficient in terminography rules.


For companies and organizations, her final remark was that the cost of initial researching will be compensated by documenting your terms in your database. When one person researches concepts along with their related names and terms with the right spelling and so on, others will be saving time as it takes less than one minute to look up your term in the termbase. Lastly, companies can reuse your terms not just for translation but also for other processes.

Thanks again to SDL Trados and Barbara for such a practical and enlightening webinar. Stay tuned for my third summary.barbara-221x3001

Read my first webinar summary here.


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