Terminology is not just relevant to translation

Why it is important to speak ONE language when creating documentation.

Terminology is not just relevant to translation

German is pretty difficult, right?

Well, no, not really; people just need to agree on a shared vocabulary.

Written text in particular is vulnerable to misunderstandings and misinterpretation. A written manual is “set in stone”. It cannot be changed, and, if a sentence isn’t clear, there is nobody to ask what a sentence actually means. In the worst case, ambiguities can lead to incorrect assembly, incidents or accidents – after all, a cover is not a flap, and a switch is not a button. Ideally these questions should be resolved during development, and at the latest when the editorial work begins. If every employee involved with the product in some way uses the same word for the same part, everyone knows immediately what is involved, there is no need for complicated explanations, and all in-house documents are comprehensible to everyone. The easiest method is for a team to agree on specific words that are then recorded in a terminology database. New employees from other departments are instantly able to do everything in the right way.

By the way, a terminology list is not just useful for nouns (e.g. when naming parts), but also for verbs (e.g. for action steps) or adjectives (e.g. software states).

For technical editors, a terminology list is especially useful. From the very start, it creates a shared understanding and perspective that could otherwise be missing. The editor has probably never seen the device or machine before the research appointment, and yet they are supposed to understand the entire structure within a very short time. They have to describe which screw to release (or unscrew) in order to remove a specific part in order to perform maintenance on the parts behind it. Of course that is only an advantage if every contact and every document speaks the same language. This minimises questions, and everyone can concentrate on the work they do best.

So what does all this have to do with translation? While the editor writes the manual(s), they determine the terminology that will finally be used for the customer. As a result, it is possible to find the right foreign-language term for every term during translation later on. Imagine what would happen if a translator was confronted with a text that uses many different names for a single part. When they come across the first name, they will choose a name in the target language that seems suitable to them. Next they find another name that they assume refers to a different part, and so they choose a different word in their language. When they come across the part for the third time, they get suspicious and replace the translation for the term 1 while forgetting term 2, and so on. The incidents multiply into a text that is incomprehensible, even to the design engineers.
If terminology work begins at the very start, or at least during the editorial process, the translator receives a clean list with the most important terms and will translate these terms consistently and purposefully.

As a result,

  • translation costs are lowered because duplication is avoided and text production is increased.
  • Documents improve in terms of quality and comprehensibility.
  • Users and customers in different countries are happier, and are more likely to choose a product from their favourite manufacturer again.

And that’s how it should be!

Lisa Lange
Blog post Lisa Lange
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