In the blog post “Terminology: Putting the Concept into Practice,” we began with an introduction to terminology from a linguistics point of view. Now, it’s time to discover the value of people-powered terminology management, and how it complements your enterprise content strategy.
What happens if you’re required to use certain terminology in a highly-regulated industry, but there are variations on what should be one compliant version of a word, phrase, or message?
When Acrolinx conducted a survey focused on how organizations manage terminology, the results showed that the benefits of proper terminology management include a consistent brand voice, reduced confusion, and lower translation costs.
But even companies that don’t translate still see benefit in managing their words and phrases. Ninety-one percent of respondents said they would still manage their company’s words and phrases, even if they no longer had to translate their content. Why? Because inconsistent content ruins the customer experience, dilutes your brand, and risks the serious consequences of non-compliant communication in highly-regulated industries.
At Acrolinx, we hold a weekly terminology council meeting to review the latest product-related terms, discuss updates to our messaging, and make sure we’re communicating consistently across all our departments and communication channels. And why do we make it a priority to clearly define and share our corporate messaging and language? Let’s find out!
Who Manages Terminology, and Why?
A little while ago, Acrolinx conducted a proprietary survey of more than 200 content professionals across different industries. Here’s what we found.
- At 80 percent of the companies surveyed, there’s at least one person looking after the enterprise messaging, words, and phrases.
- Only 11 percent of companies have either a dedicated person or team doing the job.
- For 69 percent of companies, the work is spread across individuals or teams that also devote their time to other tasks.
The people filling these roles are typically writers and editors, and the teams that care most about terminology management are usually marketing and tech docs.
Among the companies we surveyed that don’t track important words and phrases, nearly half of the respondents (46 percent) said they’re interested in doing so,but lack the resources. Meanwhile, 25 percent hadn’t given it much consideration, while one in ten (the equivalent of just one percent of all respondents to the survey) indicated they didn’t see the value in devoting resources to it.
So, does every organization need a terminology council? Definitely – especially if you’re still relying solely on editors to check if your terms and phrases are being used consistently and accurately. But even if you’re using some kind of technology, a terminology council is a great way to inject new enthusiasm into the process and provide objective, human-centric feedback on the voice of the company.
And in highly-regulated industries, legally-compliant terminology simply isn’t a choice for the organization. It’s critical.
What Should a Term Council Do?
Regardless of what you call it, the role of a “terminology council” is to define, maintain, and regularly review the terminology in your organization. Some enterprises might employ full-time terminologists. But more often, term council participants take on terminology management as a voluntary, secondary role to their main job.
If your current terminology council has fizzled out, or never really became “a thing” in your organization – it’s time it made a comeback! What better inspiration do you need than to review the important role a term council plays in your content strategy.
Terminology councils are responsible for:
- Managing existing terminology
- Discussing old and new concepts
- Considering writer’s feedback on words and phrases
- Mapping a structure of the terminology database
- Defining linguistic rules for word compounds and style
- Overseeing that everyone is aware of regulatory requirements for terminology
- Creating a style guide accessible for all content creators
- Reviewing the brand language for new content types and new target audiences
- Promoting the consistent use of terminology throughout the enterprise
When you’re just starting with defining and managing your official terminology, expect a lot of discussions and planning as you map out a structure. But even when you’ve already been through these processes, you’ll likely come to a point where you’ll want (or need) to revise your terminology as part of your content strategy.
To help with revising your current content strategy, we’ve created a mini guide that demonstrates how many organizations manage their words and phrases. Armed with that information, you can choose to be part of the content revolution. It’s never been easier to create an efficient, effective way to create a consistent customer experience and publish reliably compliant content.
Three Stages of Successful Terminology Management
1. Definition: Decide on the specific use and meaning of your terminology.
Product and marketing teams may call two different products or processes by the same name or give various names to the same object. It’s up to the term council to work out if you’re using the same word for different things, or two different words for the same thing, and then decide on which word works best.
When deciding between two possible definitions, it’s useful to consider the complexity of the term. Does it sound too technical for marketing purposes? Or, if put in a sentence, too vague for clear instructions or technical content? Try and find a definition that’s as versatile as possible, so you know different teams won’t revert to using their preferred vocabulary because it doesn’t suit the context they need to communicate in.
2. Structure: Spreadsheets or Specialized Software?
There are many possibilities to organize your enterprise terminology. A common process is to simply start gathering words in a spreadsheet, and import them into a database as your content operation matures.
Once a company has more than just a handful of words and phrases, capturing, storing, and managing them can be a real challenge. To do so, companies use a variety of tactics. The most common, cited by nearly half of people we surveyed (47.5 percent), is to use spreadsheets and other database tools. Meanwhile, nearly one-third of respondents (31 percent) make use of specialized software designed for the task. But amazingly, some companies still rely on paper and whiteboards to capture and store this information.
A simple document with a table or spreadsheet is an easy option to start a terminology database. But if you have a wide range of different products or services, or need to use certain words in a highly specific context, it’s a great idea to opt for a terminology management system.
Here’s an example of a basic structure for a term entry ready for import into a database:
|Front door||An entrance giving direct access to a street or road.||Merriam- Webster||Housing||General||Preferred||English|
Keep in mind that independent of the terminology management software you use, you’ll need to update your terminology and add to your database from the discussions you have in your terminology council. The sooner you plan for flexible updating, and ease of access to the latest terminology, the better it will work for your business.
A centralized, systematic process to manage terminology is one of the best ways to avoid time wasted when writers can’t find the correct term to use in their content.
3. Rules: Make them before you break them.
One of the biggest benefits of a terminology council is that you can decisively choose to use corporate language in a way that’s clear, consistent, and easily understood.
We strongly recommend that all your team members have:
- Access to the preferred and prohibited terms and keywords.
- Access to industry-compliant terminology and how and when to use it.
- An understanding that terminology management is important for the efficiency and accuracy of your content, and how customers experience it. If you need more great reasons why terminology matters, read our other blog post on terminology
To make sure every content creator knows your content guidelines, it’s best to provide them with access to regularly updated, digital, and easily readable terminology guidelines. For example, you can share a Cloud document or use a dedicated platform or technology that can help writers use the correct terminology wherever they create content.
A big part of being deliberate with words is collecting feedback from the people that use them every day. It’s okay to have rules, but it’s also okay to challenge them if they don’t make sense to everyone, or certain phrases become outdated. Allowing a comment feature on the existing terminology allows writers to give feedback that comes from actual usage and related difficulties. Quite often, writer feedback becomes a valuable starting point for your next terminology council meeting.
Acrolinx: Consistently Clear and Compliant Terminology
When terminology management meets a platform like Acrolinx, you enable content creators to use the right words in the right context, every single time they write content. A terminology council is a great way to make sure your corporate language reflects the real world, and that different teams are using consistent and compliant terminology to represent your product or service.
Did you know it’s possible to integrate your existing terminology database into the Acrolinx Platform?
Acrolinx offers a superior terminology management system that allows you to define preferred and prohibited terms, or define the appropriate context. And, if you update your terminology during your term council, Acrolinx instantly applies those updates to your entire enterprise, keeping writers aligned to the most up-to-date, compliant terminology.
To learn more about terminology management, download our guide.