This post was originally published three years ago, today. It remains one of the most popular posts on the Content Rules blog. So here it is again for you. Just as important today as it was in 2013.

I get a great feeling of satisfaction when all of my laundry is done. The clothes are washed, pressed, folded, and put away. Of course, things are put away in my uber-organized, structured closet. It’s that feeling of being done with a task – sometimes a daunting task if I include clothes from all of my family members. It’s really nice to look at the empty hampers and think, “Ahhhh all done!!”

And that feeling lingers until..well…it lingers until a few hours later, when we all have dirty clothes to wash once again. Laundry is the gift that keeps on giving. Just when you think you’re done, there’s more.

Terminology is the same way.

Imagine the feeling of accomplishment when you have added all of your important terms to your terminology database (or word list if that’s your method of choice). Every word properly spelled, usage rules defined, preferred terms and disallowed terms linked, and so on. For some of my customers, this is an enormous task. I work with customers who have ten thousand, twenty thousand, even thirty thousand or more terms. Configuring each and every one is neither quick nor simple. Imagine fastening each and every button on each and every shirt, skirt, sweater, and pair of pants that you own. Terms are like that.

When we finish a terminology project, we rejoice. Champagne is popped. We cue the Snoopy music. We dance around the conference room.

And then, maybe not the next day, but certainly within the next month or two there are new terms. Perhaps you’ve purchased a company. Or, maybe you have a new product to launch. Or a new brand. Or, like so many companies these days, your marketing department has made up 6 or 7 new words that are not in the dictionary. Just when you think your terminology is finished, you have more.

My point is that terminology never – ever – ends. It’s never complete and never finished.

If you fail to acknowledge and act on this little tidbit, you will find that your database or word list is out of date rather quickly. Once it is out of date, your content creators will no longer bother to use it. They will be very frustrated because the new terms are constantly flagging as spelling errors. Your legal department and product managers will be angry because writers aren’t using the new words properly.

It is imperative that you maintain your terminology. You should revisit it periodically, preferably on a schedule. Depending on your company, you might need to review terms only once every six months. Then again, a quarterly review might be more appropriate if things change quickly.

When you review terminology, make sure you look for:

  • New terms that need to be added
  • Existing terms that need to be deprecated
  • Existing terms that need to be modified

Of course, having a process in place for keeping your terminology fresh is helpful. Just like you separate your whites and colors, you want to make sure you organize your terms before you toss them into the mix.

It’s also good to define a process so that content creators can suggest new terms and changes to existing terms. If you define the process in advance, updating your database or word list on schedule will be easier for everyone. If you have no process, your content creators will send you random words, at random times, and you will have to figure out what to do with them until you are ready to make your updates. Or, you will never get the changes because folks won’t know what to do with their suggestions. Even with the best intentions, your team will inevitably misplace the updates because folks are so busy.

Don’t let your terminology sit in a damp, dark corner getting old and musty. Instead, give it a scheduled, periodic scrubbing. Then, your content will be fresh as a daisy.

Val Swisher

Val Swisher is the CEO of Content Rules. She is a well-known expert in global content strategy, content development, and terminology management. Using her 20 years of experience, Val helps companies solve complex content problems by analyzing their content and how it is created.

When not blogging, Val can be found sitting behind her sewing machine working on her latest quilt. She also makes a mean hummus.