Your Guide to Creating a Glossary for Technical Translation

When growing your business involves entering new markets, how you manage terminology across multiple languages becomes critically important. Accurate and credible translations represent a competitive advantage in today’s market. This is especially so for technical translation. 

What would happen if your translated material was inconsistent? How can you make sure your brand’s voice isn’t diluted or drowned out? How can you ensure accuracy when working with external language service providers?

Your translation must fit your corporate culture, follow your marketing team’s preferences, and achieve clarity through key terms.

Beginning by creating a glossary for technical translation can help solve many of these issues. Building such a glossary can be tedious, but in the long-term, the investment will cut away from your daily costs and help your translators to process text at an efficient rate. 

Having a glossary for technical translation in place ensures that your linguists know how to communicate your brand values so that your brand can truly shine.

In this article, we’ll look at what a glossary for technical translation is and how it benefits your translation and localization projects.

The Purpose of a Glossary for Technical Translation

Glossary for Technical Translation

A multi-lingual glossary for technical translation helps you to maintain consistency and improve the language of the translation, but its powers are more comprehensive than you might think. 

Your translation glossary can: 

  • Create a larger context for your content
  • Help categorize your products or services 
  • Pinpoint relevant terms and help translators to avoid irrelevant ones
  • Provide explanations for important terms
  • Define source language terms in different languages
  • Create standards for product names
  • Clarify ambiguous words
  • Override unclear translations with commonly understood English alternatives
  • List approved terms for technical concepts and features
  • Help to achieve more relevant content. 

How is a glossary different from a style guide?

While a style guide creates standards for brand names, capitalizations, and syntax-specific preferences, a translation glossary enforces terminology consistencies. This way, your translators will be able to choose the right words for your industry and purpose, keeping translations (literally and figuratively) on the same page. 

What is a glossary for technical translation?

At its core, a glossary is an organized—often alphabetical—list of important words and expressions. External providers, such as language service providers (LSPs) and translators, can reference it when faced with several options for a word or expression. 

Effective terminology management keeps your most important terms consistent across all content assets, no matter what language they are in. 

Glossaries play a big role in translating complex source material such as technical, medical, manufacturing, or legal texts. What’s more, a well-crafted terminology management strategy sets the standard for all future localization projects. 

Here are some key components that go into a successful glossary for technical translation:

  • Important terms
  • Definitions
  • Preferred translations
  • Abbreviations and acronyms specific to your industry and brand
  • Any pre-existing terms already used in foreign markets
  • Terms that should never be translated, such as product names and trademarks.

What is a glossary for technical translation

Once the glossary or termbase has been created and put into use, it takes minimal effort by both client and LSP to maintain it. Through regular revision, a good glossary ensures your content is up-to-date, accurate, and consistent and stays relevant and on point with your brand. 

Glossary vs. termbase: what’s the difference?

When first launching your localization project, you may encounter the terms “glossary” and “termbase.” While often used interchangeably in the localization industry, it can be helpful to distinguish between these two terms.

As mentioned above, a glossary is like a brief dictionary that writers and translators can turn to for guidance when making critical word choices. It is also a general term that can apply to various fields, from cognitive psychology and science journalism to information science and software engineering. 

The word “termbase” is a contraction of “terminology database.” As the name suggests, it’s like a glossary for the digital era. Think of it as just another database whose collection of data is built from brand-approved terminology in multiple languages. 

No matter which word you prefer, both terms are used to describe the most important tool in any successful terminology management strategy.

When translations fail: working without a glossary or termbase

Glossary or Termbase

Working without an effective terminology management system puts your business at risk in several ways. Think of it as building your localization project on top of a rocky foundation. As time goes on and your project develops, cracks will begin to appear, threatening to topple your goals for expansion into new markets. 

The world of advertising is full of cautionary tales about translation and terminology management. While hilarious, these translation fails were no laughing matter in terms of financial and reputational cost. 

In the late 2000s, HSBC famously neglected to consider a multilingual terminology strategy before translating its slogan, “Assume nothing.” When it turned up as the starkly prohibitive “Do nothing” in various countries worldwide, the bank had a lot of backpedaling to do. They also spent $10 million on rebranding to the less nuanced and thus more translatable slogan, “The world’s private bank.”

Terminology management needs a clear strategy from the very first stage of the localization process because your message is the source of everything to follow. Without a fit-for-purpose glossary, your writers and experts spend precious time looking for the right words and debating terms. This lag leaves room for inconsistencies to creep in. 

By the second stage, editors take time trying to fix every mistake and smooth out each inconsistency. Next, translators do extra research at the third stage and spend time raising queries to find the “right” translation. 

At the fourth and last stage, review, internal or external experts must correct translations and ensure that nothing has been lost in the process.

Benefits of creating a glossary for technical translation

Glossary For Technical Translation Benefits

The reason why so many language specialists—from technical writers and bid writers to translators and localization experts—work with a glossary is simple. Working with language is not like studying a hard science. Using a glossary or termbase builds a solid foundation whose ever-evolving structure will support successful communication in one or multiple languages. 

Besides its critical role in the localization process, here are five key benefits of creating a glossary for technical translation:

1. Ensures accuracy and consistency. 

Perhaps more than in any other field, accuracy in technical translations is crucial. Mistakes in technical instructions could have serious consequences such as a damaged reputation or even legal or regulatory compliance issues. 

Your external translators will be specialists in your field, but translation isn’t like following a math equation. A seemingly simple word in one language may have any number of possibilities in another. Having a glossary in place during the translation process removes the guesswork and ensures your communications reach the new audience intact. 

2. Maintains your brand identity. 

Accuracy alone isn’t enough to ensure successful technical translation. A glossary serves as a brand guideline for the professionals translating your material. Clear, accurate, and on-brand language creates the best possible user experience

Sloppy or inconsistent translations will cause your brand to lose credibility and visibility. It may also complicate how your product or service gets used. By creating a glossary for technical translation, you keep control of how your brand is perceived. 

3. Saves time and money. 

You might see the process of creating a glossary for technical translation as an extra step. Think of it instead as an initial investment that delivers long-term benefits in terms of both time and money. A glossary or termbase lays a solid foundation, ensuring your investment is safe because the project is set up for success. 

Using a termbase throughout the localization lifecycle saves time and money otherwise spent on additional research, internal and external debates, inefficient back-and-forth, and eventual errors. By providing all current and future stakeholders with a well-crafted and well-maintained glossary, you are giving everyone what they need to work at peak efficiency. 

4. Allows your people to do what they do best. 

At first, creating a glossary for technical translation requires an investment from your in-house experts or the people who know your terminology the best. These experts might find themselves pulled away from other primary duties and responsibilities so that they can assist in creating a top-notch glossary. 

They will need to collaborate with your chosen LSP as the glossary is being built and can sometimes be called upon to maintain it as it grows with your business. Their time is likely precious—to them and to you. An effective and up-to-date glossary ultimately removes the potential for ad hoc, back-and-forth exchange with external linguists. As a result, your in-house experts can get back to being brilliant at what they do.  

5. Creates a culture of knowledge sharing. 

Knowledge sharing is the mutual exchange of information, skills, expertise, or technologies among people and within or between organizations. At the organizational level, knowledge sharing helps boost productivity and promote an efficient and collaborative work environment. 

It’s also smart in terms of business. According to a study by the video content management software company Panopto, the average large business in the US loses $47 million a year in productivity from inadequate knowledge sharing. 

One way to ensure that knowledge is shared successfully with all internal and external stakeholders is to establish an effective terminology management strategy. A well-designed and maintained glossary gives the authors and editors of your content easy access to key information. It also ensures that your external partners, such as advertising, marketing, and translation companies, have the tools they need to succeed. 


For technical translation and localization, terminology management creates business value for your brand. But managing terminology successfully across languages and cultures is no easy feat, as evidenced by the many famous names found lacking in this area. 

Your company has set aside the time and budget to ensure your communications are user-friendly. Putting end-users at the centre of what you do is most likely one of your core values—it should also be a key part of your translation and localization strategy. 

At Art One Translations, we are firm believers in creating a glossary or termbase as part of our best practices. We work closely alongside your in-house experts and build a glossary that becomes part of your growth strategy. And as your business grows, we’ll make sure your glossary evolves with it.

Do you have requirements for an ongoing technical translation project? Do it right from the start! Contact your expert technical translation provider.

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