This post is part of the Let’s Talk Terminology series.

Based on comments and LinkedIn group discussions from my previous post, most of us agree that terminology has something to do with words – managing words, controlling how words are used, coming to consensus on how words are used, and so on.

The next question that comes to mind is “Why?” Why should you manage your terminology? After all, terminology management is not only time-consuming, it is never-ending. Sort of like doing laundry. Just when you think, “Yay! All my clothes are clean!” you look down and realize, “Oh, no they’re not. I’m getting my current clothes dirty as we speak.”

There are many good reasons to manage terminology. [Caveat – we are only discussing single-language, U.S. English terminology in this series. The are additional, critical reasons to manage multilingual terminology, but we aren’t discussing those right now.]

Before I give you the reasons I’ve thought of, I want to direct you to an excellent article written by Uwe Muegge. The article is from 2007, but all of the information is as applicable now as it was 6 years ago. The title is “Why manage terminology? 10 quick answers.” Here are some of Uwe’s reasons for managing terminology:

Reduces time-to-market

According to Uwe, standardizing terminology across all departments in the organization allows you to take advantage of automated tools and processes. Automation speeds time-to-market. I concur. I would also add that even without automation, using a shared, consistent lexicon across all departments reduces time-to-market for manual processes. For example, review cycles can be shortened because there is an agreed-upon way to refer to things. Reviewers don’t have to parse through multiple terms for the same thing and decide if each different term is accurate. From a content development point of view, I have found that when writers use consistent, agreed-upon terms with subject matter experts, the conversations are more productive. Less time is spent on definitions and making sure that we are all talking about the same thing.

Provides a consistent lexicon that can be used across all parts of the enterprise

I agree with Uwe; terminology management provides a consistent lexicon.  That is what term management does, not why you would use it. A bit farther down in this section, Uwe gets to the heart of the matter. Terminology management makes people more efficient. It also ensures that everyone in the organization communicates the same message and speaks with one voice.

My takeaway…terminology management:

  • Makes writing and editing more efficient
  • Ensures consistency in all communication

Allows knowledge to be shared across the organization

Terminology management increases the sharing of knowledge. Uwe also mentions that terminology management makes it easier to train new hires and others who are unfamiliar with the domain. This is an interesting idea that I hadn’t thought of, but it makes sense.

Here are my additional reasons to manage terminology.

Consistent content is easier to understand

Regardless of whether your company produces software, hardware or children’s toys, using consistent terminology helps to make your content easier to understand. This is true for all types of content: technical, marketing, sales, services, and so on. Using the same terms in the same ways sets a reading expectation. Your reader (or viewer) spends less time defining additional words and more time doing whatever it is they need to do.

Enforces compliance with legal trademarks, service marks

If there is one thing that drives legal departments berserk, it is using trademarks, registered trademarks, service marks and other legal demarcations incorrectly. An incorrectly used trademark can violate the terms of the trademark. That’s why legal departments get so picky about trademark usage. Managing legal terms helps enforce correct usage.

Lowers the cost of content development and editing

Theoretically, if we all use the same terminology, it should take less time to create content. Rather than searching for a different word to say the same thing, we can just use the approved term. Simple, right? Well, not necessarily. The reason I say “theoretically,” is that managing terms can make content creation go faster, but it can also make the development process take a lot longer. Whether term management is a help or a hindrance depends, in part, on how you manage the terms. If terms are kept in a spreadsheet, table, or other flat file, and the writer has to constantly stop to look up the terms, the time (and cost) of developing content can go way up. If terminology management is done using technology that automatically flags an incorrect term and suggests the correct term, the process of creating content can be much more efficient. I will go into more detail in a future post on ways to manage terminology.

Consistent terminology is faster and, therefore less costly, to edit. I hope we all agree on that one.

Lowers the cost of translation

Consistency lowers the cost of translation. As a refresher, once a segment (phrase) has been translated into a particular language, you do not have to pay to have that same segment translated into that same language again. The caveat is that you have to use the exact same words to begin with. If that doesn’t make sense, you can download my eBook on global-ready content for more information.

Can enhance the perception of quality

This last point is a tricky one. As content creators, we want to believe that there is a direct link between the quality of our content and the perception of our company and products. I know that I want to believe it. And some studies have shown a link.  More importantly, though, is whether content quality is linked in any way to repeat business. I want to believe that it matters; that poor content reflects poorly on a company and, further, results in fewer sales. I don’t actually think that has been the case. I’m pretty sure that top-level executives at many major companies see no correlation. If they did, they would fund better quality content. Over the past five years, I have seen a great deal of budget cutting in content creation groups. Budget cutting almost always leads to cut corners, regardless of how hard we work. Yet, sales at these same cost-busting companies do not appear to have been affected by the content quality in a measurable way. If you know of any data that links content quality directly to repeat business, please share it.

What I do know is this: Crummy content definitely doesn’t enhance the perception of quality. At best, content that is difficult to understand is either ignored or is fodder for a good joke.

To Sum Up

Why should you manage terminology? Here are some reasons:

  • Speeds time-to-market
  • Enhances efficiency
  • Ensures consistency
  • Increases sharing of knowledge
  • Increases understanding
  • Enforces legal compliance
  • Lowers the cost of developing and editing content
  • Lowers the cost of translation
  • Enhances the perception of quality

I’m sure I’m missing some. What else would you add to this list?

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.

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