Terminology Management: Your Shortcut to Faster, More Accurate Translations

What exactly is terminology management in translation?

To understand the importance of terminology tools, let’s turn back the clock a few decades before personal computers became a vital part of the translation industry.

Imagine that you have a document—a 60-page operating manual, for example—that you need to translate from German into English.

You fax (or mail) the manual to a translation agency. They send it on to a translator, along with any additional resources you might provide, such as a hard-copy glossary.

As the translator works, all terminology checking needs to be done manually. Even if provided with a glossary for technical translation, the translator must review the source text with a highlighter, looking for instances of each glossary term.

Likewise, you may have been happy with the translation of the previous edition of the manual two years prior. But even if you provide the source and target copies of that manual, the translator still has to cross-reference them repeatedly to take advantage of previous translations.

When revising, the reviser must follow the same series of labour-intensive steps to ensure the right terms are used. If they are working with a glossary of, say, 200 terms, that could mean hours spent confirming that the right words were used.

You will notice two recurring themes here: 

  • The manual work involved in cross-checking glossary terms or previous translations is time-consuming.
  • The process leaves significant room for human error

Computer-aided translation tools (within the industry, you will often hear them referred to as CAT tools) were created in the 1980s to address these issues. In the thirty-plus years they have been available, they have evolved to automate many of these processes.

As per Technavio, a leading global technology research company, implementing CAT tools is a key factor in translation industry growth.

Within their CAT tool, translators typically work with a translation memory, a glossary, and a style guide. Each of these is important for managing terminology across translation projects.

The use of CAT tools is particularly important in technical translation due to the crucial importance of consistency with terminology. Statistics show the value of a well-organized terminology management strategy: a 2016 SDL survey found that terminology inconsistencies were the number one reason that translations needed to be redone.

When General Motors studied translation quality within its company, it found that a staggering 47% of translation errors were due simply to the wrong term being used.

Today, savvy companies rely on a full stack of interdependent terminology management tools to avoid terminology errors, save time, and seamlessly translate content. 

We will first explore the three main tools translators use to manage terminology and then examine what benefits they yield for translation buyers.

What terminology management tools do translators use?

Translation Memory

A CAT tool typically breaks a document into “segments” or translation units. A segment might be a sentence, a bullet point, or even a one-word headline.

A Translation Memory is a database that consists of source-language segments paired with their target-language equivalents. Each segment pair may store additional metadata, such as the date it was translated or the name of the source document.

When translators import a translation memory into their CAT tool, they can search existing translations to find what has previously been translated and insert or modify those translations to fit the project they are currently working on and maintain consistency of terminology.


A Glossary consists of a list of source words or phrases and their equivalent(s) in the target language for translation purposes. Each term may include other information, such as product images, links to relevant websites, or definitions.

It is tempting to see glossaries as synonymous with dictionaries, but that is not the case. Unlike a dictionary containing all possible definitions of a term, glossaries are written for a specific field or even an individual client or brand. A glossary may also specify words or phrases that should not be translated, such as trademarked words or phrases, organization names, or even colour names that need to match what is on the packaging.

Importing a glossary into a CAT tool automates some elements of checking terms will be underlined, translators can insert the right term with a keystroke, and quality control checks will flag segments where the correct term has not been used.

Style Guide

Should a certain be capitalized or not? When discussing a book, should its title be italicized, enclosed in quotation marks, or underlined? What dictionary should be used as an authority on spelling questions?

A style guide sets out to answer questions like these about usage, formatting, punctuation, and more. 

Some projects will rely on established style guides, such as the Associated Press for journalistic articles or the American Psychological Association for academic works. In other cases, individual companies may have developed their own internal style guide.

terminology management process

Why Use Terminology Management Tools?

Achieve Continuity and Consistency

Many large-scale projects—such as technical documentation translation, an eLearning localization project, or translating a website with large product catalogues—require a team of multiple translators and editors to keep timelines manageable.

Terminology management tools allow translators to work as a cohesive team, regardless of their location. 

Each translator will have access to the same glossary and style guide. When they share a translation memory, they will also be able to see how their colleagues have handled a similar phrase and incorporate it into their own work. 

You will refine your preferences as you undertake more and more translation projects. Your translators will learn from your feedback and incorporate what they have learned into their translations moving forward.

A translation memory is portable across platforms. If you have been translating product manuals for years, you can apply the same translation memory to your multilingual content management system (CMS) on the web.

Maintain Control Over Your Brand

Chances are that your company has developed an exhaustive brand guide for its design and content creation teams, which dictates both the brand’s look and feel (such as the colour palette) and its tone and voice. 

Creating a style guide and a glossary allows you to exercise this same level of control over your translated content, specifying your preferences at a granular level.

If you have in-house reviewers who will be working closely with the translation team, they can be involved in multiple steps of the terminology management process, from drafting and approving a glossary to providing feedback on specific translations.

Avoid Incurring Costs Caused by Errors

Error reduction is one of the pillars of any business case for a robust terminology management stack.

A translation team can decrease the likelihood of costly errors by implementing proper terminology management procedures, such as crafting a thorough glossary and style guide, using the terminology checkers built into a CAT tool, and working off a robust translation memory. 

Once an error is discovered, costs can pile up quickly: marketing collateral that needs to be reprinted, packaging that necessitates a recall, or even time spent issuing formal statements (or making social media posts) to address the fallout from an error that went viral, as Coca-Cola had to do in New Zealand when they mixed English and Māori in an attempt to craft a catchy slogan. 

In extreme cases, translation errors have even caused stock prices to drop. In 2012, Sharp released its quarterly earnings report in Japanese. When it was translated to English, the text misused a precise term that suggested that investors should be concerned about Sharp’s status as a going concern, although the source text didn’t indicate that same level of concern. While the error was ultimately corrected, the initial concern caused a 10% dip in the stock price. Isn’t this a high price to pay for a lack of terminology management in translation?

Research has repeatedly shown that fixing a translation error after the fact is more expensive. For example, J.D. Edwards calculated that it cost $150 to manage a term within its system, but the cost of changing one once it had been deployed was $2000.

Simply put, investing in a glossary, style guide, and translation memory is the easiest way to prevent costly errors down the road. When efficient terminology management is paired with advanced CAT tools, it also allows us to offer further discounts for repetitions, decreasing costs as you continue to work with us.

Receive Translated Documents More Quickly

Any translator can tell you that a well-managed translation memory, glossary, and style guide in their toolbox allows them to work much more efficiently.

For one thing, many corporations reuse text from one document to another, such as the company description at the end of each of their press releases. When existing translations are available in the translation memory, a translator does not have to start from scratch. If there is not an exact match, their CAT tool will look for similar segments that the translator can repurpose after editing.

Additionally, term lookups and research can take a significant amount of time. A study performed on behalf of the Translation Bureau of Canada found that “terminology accounts for 15% to 30% of translation/writing work. Terminology increases productivity in translation and revision by about 20%.” The same study also found that “terminology research is required for 4% to 6% of all words in a text.”

When translators and revisers have access to terminology management tools, projects can be completed more quickly while still ensuring the translation is accurate and reads naturally. Additionally, the right terminology management plan can yield discounted rates for repetitive texts.

Contact us to schedule a call to discuss how Art One’s terminology management strategies can help deliver high-quality translations that meet all your company’s requirements.

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