It’s been a while since I posted about the 8 Simple Rules to make your content global ready now. In that time, I got to take a couple of weeks off to go to Hawaii, so at least I have a fairly good excuse. Now, back to the rules!

Rule #3 is all about managing terminology. In my 20+ years of working in content development, I have seen many companies try to manage terminology. And, frankly, most of them failed.

Let’s talk about managing terminology. Why bother? Well that’s easy. If you are in the content creation business, your product is your words/pictures/movies. And if words are your product, you need to care about them. You need to select them carefully and consistently, and you need to manage them.

By this I mean you need to make sure you have a consistent lexicon that is simple, straightforward, and makes sense. And the most important word is consistent. Consistent terminology is critical for so many reasons. It:

  • Makes your content much easier to read for people of all reading levels.
  • Preserves your company trademarks, service marks, copyrights, and so on.
  • Safeguards your product and company branding.
  • Ensures that everyone in your organization uses the same words to describe the same things.
  • Allows you to use different XML chunks in a structured environment without having to rewrite for consistency.
  • Lowers the price and time it takes to translate the content into multiple languages.
  • Helps to ensure the quality and consistency of the translations.

Sure there are additional reasons to manage terminology, but I think you catch my drift. Once we’ve established why to manage terminology (which seems so obvious to me, but often doesn’t occur to other people), the task becomes how to manage it.

The two most common ways I’ve seen of managing terminology are Excel spreadsheets and Microsoft Word tables. Usually there are at least two columns: allowed terms and prohibited terms. Sometimes allowed terms are called preferred terms. Sometimes prohibited terms are called deprecated terms. Regardless of what the terms are called and regardless of what application is used to create the list of terms, this type of system for managing terminology is simply a nightmare. I rarely see a company that can grow and scale using lists or spreadsheets as their management system for terminology.

Why do term lists fail? There are many reasons. In my opinion, the main reason term lists fail is that they require a pull mechanism for people to use them. By that I mean, the author or editor needs to:

  • Know that the term in question is managed (the company cares about correct usage).
  • Know where to find the list of terms.
  • Get the list of terms.
  • Search for the term and determine if it is allowed or prohibited (or if it even exists in the term list at all).
  • Make the correction, if necessary.

There is no way that this system can work. When I’m in the middle of writing a document, even this blog post, I am simply not going to remember if a term is managed. Moreover, I am not going to stop what I am doing every 10 or 15 minutes (or more frequently than that) to go and look up the term in the term list. Pull management of terminology just doesn’t work. And if it works at your company, consider yourself the exception rather than the norm.

So, what does work? The best way to manage terminology is to have:

  • A database that is shared with everyone in the entire organization, corporate-wide.
  • A mechanism by which incorrect terms are flagged automatically.
  • A mechanism that pushes the correction to the writer or editor for consideration.

In other words, an automated way of having the lexicon pushed to the developer, rather than expecting the developer to go and pull it. By sharing the terminology database across the company, you can make sure that everyone has the same list of terms. And by using a push technology, you can make sure that errors are identified and corrected each and every time they occur.

There are various terminology management software packages on the market. And without making this post a commercial, I want to mention that ContentRules IQ includes a sophisticated terminology management system that makes sure your content is consistent each time and every time. If you are interested in knowing more about the software, just click here.

So, Simple Rule #3: Use a Terminology Manager. It will save you time, money and headaches, and preserve your brand, trademarks and service marks.

Val Swisher
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