Terminology Management the right way

Why? What? How? and Where?

The Why

With the business world changing at a rapid pace, nowadays companies often find themselves overwhelmed with their terminology, especially as their databases grow larger every day due to expansion to other markets.

Documenting terminology is just the first step in achieving consistency when localising your content with the aim to expand. The real challenge, however, is having the right knowledge on how to document all this important information. Most languages have many ways of translating the same word so choosing and consistently using one term when localising your content will help you to ensure that consistency and drive success.

This blog will discuss the What?, How?, Why? and Where? of Terminology Management.

The What

As a company you want to convey a specific message to your customers, it’s very important to try and not confuse them with various terms and portray yourself as the consistent, organised and conscientious brand that you are.  It’s important to start thinking about what you want to document in a term base, as well as how to categorise terms which are specific to your industry and your company.

According to ISO 1087-1, terminography is defined as “part of terminology work concerned with the recording and presentation of terminological data”. Terminography is all about collecting information about the concept, gathering the potential terms, evaluating the collected information and recording the terminological entries in a term base.

You may have many different reasons as to why you need to document a specific term within a term base. Depending on the nature of your business, the categories you may want to document in a termbase are:

  • Source term
  • Definition (the source of the definition would also be useful)
  • Domain/subject field
  • Part of speech (verb, noun, adjective)
  • Context – a description of what/ where the term is used.
  • Target term
  • Usage Status (preferred/approved/forbidden)
  • Geographical usage (which region/country is it used in)
  • Number (Singular/Plural)
  • Gender (Male/Female)

For localisation professionals, “general” words are not one of the best terms to document within a term base. The reason being that, depending on the context, certain words can have different translations and the person dealing with the word needs to imagine a context. Therefore, if several people deal with the same terminological word, they can come up with different contexts.

The How

The following examples are taken from a Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) webinar, “Terminology Management—Documenting Terms, Once and For All”, presented by Barbara Inge Karsch of Bik Terminology.


The most documented terms in English terminological databases are nouns. They make up around 90% of the total documented terms within a term base, followed by verbs and adjectives. Below are some general rules when it comes to documenting nouns:

  • Nouns should be documented in their singular form unless they are a mass noun.


OXYGEN (mass noun)

  • Nouns should be documented without a definite or indefinite article. A noun documented with the article may not give a hit in the database, therefore disabling the user to see and use it.



  • If the grammatical number is plural and is part of the name, the number is kept.

United Nations not United Nation

  • Casing (upper case vs. lower case) in product names must be written correctly and not misspelt

iPhone not iphone or Iphone

  • Multi-word terms which are preceded by an article are written in the same way as they are spoken.

The United States not United States, The


Verbs are less common in a termbase compared to nouns but are indeed part of most business terminologies.

The general rules when recording verbs in a database are:

  • Verbs need to be recorded without inflection (extra letters added to verbs in various tenses)



  • Verbs should not be preceded by “to” when recorded in a termbase



General rules for recording adjectives in a termbase are:

  • Adjectives need to be recorded in their positive form and not inflected. For Romance languages, such as French and Italian, the masculine form should be recorded as this is the simplest form that could be presented to the translator.




Different organisations document their terms in different ways, within different platforms and tools. This mainly depends on how big your organisation or terminology database is, whether you have budget allocated for localisation and terminology management systems, as well as how deep your knowledge of Terminology Management is. The common terminology databases we have encountered so far are:

  • Terminology Management Systems
  • Word documents
  • Excel sheets


If your organisation is small and you are just looking for some low cost or “no-cost” solution to get you started, Excel may be a good way to start.

Below is a template provided by Barbara during the webinar that can help guide you in the structure of the information you need to record if you are just getting started.

One thing to note, the Excel solution will only be convenient and fulfil your needs for a certain amount of time. As your organisation and product or service offering grows, along with the potential view of expanding to multiple countries, your Excel terminology will grow too, potentially to the point where it’s impossible to manage. Keep this in mind before it becomes too late and switch to a Terminology Management System as soon as you can!

Terminology Management Tools

There is a vast amount of Terminology Management tools on the market and there is no specific answer as to which tool most suits your business. The selection of the Terminology Management tool that’s right for you depends on many factors. Some of them are:

  • Goals – defining your goals and researching the market for the tool that best suits your needs can help you in identifying the system that is best for you and your organisation
  • Domain – manufacturing companies may have content with a lot of images where one concept is related to another and they need to register more information. In the IT industry, this may not be as important and there may be a lesser need for categorisation of terms.
  • Existing tools – what are your existing tools and what amends do you need to make to improve terminology management within your company.
  • Budget – this is a big factor for everyone, you need to consider your budget in the decision-making process. A good idea is to go to a few tool providers to get some costs before making the final decision.
  • Usage – you may decide to go for a solution that will only allow you to manage your terminology internally, as opposed to a solution which is cloud-based and accessible for other parts and members of your organisation.
  • Process – depending on the workflow you have in mind for terminology management, different tools can provide you with different options.


Managing a lot of data and business information can be challenging and a lot of work. Making the right decisions at the right time will help you in creating and maintaining this data in an efficient way.

If you would like to make a start yourself, keep in mind the following recommendations:

  • Collect and categorise your data from the start.
  • Record the information following best practice.
  • Pick the tool that best suits your needs before making the final decision.

You can always seek advice from your language service provider on how to start managing your terminology the right way. They can provide advice on term base extraction, creation and adaptation into the languages you require, as well as migration or cleaning up of already existing terminology.

Our team here at Ultimate Languages is well versed in handling terminology and building glossaries for our clients. You can read more about this in our posts on The Fundamentals of Translation and Tackling Technical Translations.

If you have any questions or need assistance with your own terminology management then do not hesitate to get in touch.


International Organization for Standardization (2000). ISO 1087-1:2000. Available at: https://www.iso.org/standard/20057.html (Accessed 12 March 2019)

Karsch, B. I. (2019) Terminology Management—Documenting Terms, Once and For All. Available at: https://www.gala-global.org/ondemand/terminology-management%E2%80%94documenting-terms-once-and-all (Accessed 7 February 2019)

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