Terminology lists

When in Rome, do as the Romans do
Everyone knows this saying. After all, each country and sometimes each region within a country has its own culture. This goes for organisations too. The culture of a company may at first sight seem as intangible as that of a country, but it is nonetheless worthwhile becoming aware of it, so that it becomes fixed and can be consciously developed.

Corporate language is one of the latest buzzwords. It doesn’t just refer to translations that have become accepted as part of the international expansion of the company. Expressions used in internal and external communication, grammatical constructions and stylistic elements can also be collected in a terminology list. Once they have been recorded, they can be preserved and expanded upon and the whole organisation, or parts of it, can use them as prescriptive guidelines.

A good terminology list fulfils the following functions:

- It is a reference tool for correspondence, advertising and drawing up documents
- It lists the definition of a term and the domain in which it is used
- It creates a centrally managed database
- It makes it easier for external colleagues and service providers (e.g. editors or translators) to fit in
- It ensures the continuity and the long-term preservation of corporate language regardless of possible personnel changes


Of course, the list need not include every word ever used. Words that are part of everyday language have no place in the list, nor do vague neologisms whose meaning is not clearly different from that of other expressions. On the other hand, the terminology list definitely should contain written conventions, specific technical terms, undesirable expressions (so that they can be avoided) and important abbreviations and acronyms.

Creating a terminology database
A professionally managed terminology database also records how, where and when a term became part of the corporate language, who first used it and the context in which it is used. Creating a computerised database makes it much simpler to manage the terminology and spread its use. Furthermore, this makes it easier to implement the terminology in written documents.

It is best to take the documentation process of an already existent terminology in steps if it has not yet been recorded in a structured way. Such an approach prevents the project from becoming unmanageable and integrates it right from the beginning into the corporate daily routine as a regular on-going task.

A few important questions should be answered before starting such a project:

- What types of terms should be included in the terminology list?
- Are there already glossaries and similar documents created by the company’s individual departments? Could these lists potentially be used as a basis for the terminology list?
- Who will ensure uniformity of expression if there are several terms for the same concept or process?
- Who is ultimately responsible for the project? Who will manage it and if need be have the final say when decisions must be made?
- Must the glossary be integrated into any corporate IT systems?

The earlier these questions are raised and answered when creating a terminology list, the easier – and hence cheaper – it is to implement.

The big decision: in-house or bought-in services
Finally you need to decide whether you want and are able to invest the necessary time and effort for such a project yourself – that is, in-house – or whether it would be better to hire an external specialist. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Would it make sense to take your employees away from their normal tasks so that they can work on creating and structuring a database of terms and phrases? Would you perhaps need new software with which no one in the company is familiar? Only you can answer these questions.