The German version of this terminology research report has been on the market for a year. Its structure allows terminologists, translators, content publishers, and managers as well — in short, anyone involved in communication — to learn more about the field.
In early 2010, tekom published tekom Studie: Erfolgreiches Terminologiemanagement im Unternehmen. Its German subtitle Praxishilfe und Leitfaden: Grundlagen, Umsetzung, Kosten- Nutzen-Analyse, Systemübersicht indicates the large scope of the 300-page report, and the authors promise best practices and practical guidelines, basics in terminology theory and its application in the real world, and a return on investment (ROI) analysis as well as a tools review. In my opinion, the authors more than kept this promise.
The authors are Klaus-Dirk Schmitz, full professor of terminology studies and language technology at Cologne University of Applied Sciences, and Daniela Straub, psychologist and tekom survey expert. Despite the authors’ skills, the report’s title itself demonstrates how difficult it is to keep terminology correct and consistent. I refer to an Anglicism that has crept into German terminology: term. Term is not Term in German; it is Benennung. Since Schmitz reminded us of this at the last symposium of the German terminology association DTT and in the same breath announced the publication of tekom Studie, might it be a case in point rather than the authors’ error?
The publication begins with a handy summary, which might be enough for those who can’t stomach 300 pages on terminology management. Even in these short five pages great weight is put on ROI — an area in our field in dire need of more attention. After that follow an introduction to terminology issues; an extensive section on ROI; aspects of terminology work in a company setting; a survey of nearly 1,000 tekom members; a terminology tools review; and finally, practical examples and experiences.
Introduction to terminology issues
The authors had to make a decision: to assume terminological knowledge of the reader and leave the theoretical foundation out altogether, but then also forgo less informed readership — or to expand the volume with a brief introduction, but enable the motivated lay reader to get into the field. I believe both have merits. From 14 years as a corporate terminologist, I know firsthand that terminology management only works if management grasps at least the basics. To quote former J.D. Edwards’ translation department director Loy Searle, “terminology management is a different animal.” She understood the basics. I encourage those who would like terminology management to succeed in their organization to put in the time it takes to understand the subject. The level of detail in this publication is certainly appropriate to provide the foundation for novices, but it is not too extensive to bore experts.
Practical work in a company setting and ROI
The section on practical work in a company setting could be helpful to those who are in the process of setting up a terminology database. However, they must already have a good understanding to correctly apply the information given. It would not be detailed enough as a standalone guide, but could be valuable as a follow-up read for someone who just went through a TermNet Terminology Summer School, for example. It is certainly well written and easy to digest.
For anyone thinking about introducing terminology management in his or her organization or for language service providers who might want to offer terminology services to their clients, this section is a must read. There is more data available now (Beate Frueh, Annelise Grinsted and Hanne Erdman Thomsen all have contributed greatly in this area) than there was in 2001 when Ben Martin made a splash at the TAMA conference in Antwerp with just a few figures on a small terminology ROI study at J.D. Edwards. Schmitz and Straub boil it down to a step-by-step analysis that is replicable. Part of the problem of an ROI study in an enterprise is that the time and money spent on the study could consume all of the benefits derived from terminology management. The tables and formulas as well as the sample data can easily be reused with appropriate modifications to show the benefit of terminology management in most enterprise or organizational settings.
However, lest you get overly excited, the report shows that the break-even point does not occur until year four after the implementation of terminology management in an enterprise. That is when, according to the report, cost of the implementation sinks below cost for terminological changes, questions by translators, translation costs and edits. That might rule out investing in terminology management for a good number of companies in a market such as the United States where the average lifetime of a company is 12 years. The good news is that the authors took conservative figures and still showed clearly that these costs can be reduced by terminology management.
The enormous number of pool respondents is not only testimony to the significance of the data gathered and the time invested by the researchers, but also to the openness of German industry for terminology topics. Most participants (56%) were individual contributors with some experience; over 30% were managers and the rest were students and recent graduates. The report covered a large cross section of industries and company sizes. The data gathered shows how many departments on average participate in the naming of concepts. Over 56% of respondents said that at least two departments participated in naming, and 34% stated that it is even six to ten departments. The report makes a strong case for content publishers to drive naming since documentation departments are the only groups that tend to be involved in most production phases where naming — the research of existing or the creation of new terms for products — occurs. Note that so far we are only referring to monolingual terminology in the source language. Why is this noteworthy? Terminology management is almost exclusively tied to localization in the United States, but efficiencies in the translation process are only one benefit of proper terminology management. How about clear branding through a consistent corporate language, clear communication among product teams or simply transparent communication with the customer?
It was particularly interesting to see that 61% of respondents whose companies participated in terminology management thought that it provided very high, high or fairly high cost reduction, while not even 30% of respondents whose companies are not managing terminology agreed with them. This confirms the results of a recent terminology survey conducted for the North American market by TermNet; most participants who generally had much less experience with terminology management did not think that cost reduction can be accomplished by managing terminology. The details of this survey are enormous and might seem overwhelming to the casual consumer, but they provide plenty of food for thought for the rest of us.
At first glance, this section seems hard to read, especially the description of functionality. Terminology management tools are complex, and there are many different types. It is not easy to present the different tools and their functionality in a way that is easy for the reader to digest. But, as the authors state, the list of functions can serve to compile a requirements document, and it is very well suited for that purpose. Those who would like more details regarding a particular tool are best off reviewing the survey documents that are available on a CD that comes with the publication (See Figure 1 for an example).ßThe survey filled in by MultiCorpora, for instance, contains all the details that one would want to read up on before investing more time with the tool. And that information, spread over 48 pages, is much easier to absorb than doing the research on individual tools providers’ websites. However, be aware that some of the information is provided not by the tools product managers or experts, but by marketing representatives.
and case studies
In this section, the authors share more of the results from the industry survey. For anyone who is thinking of starting terminology management or who is in the early stages, this presents a gold mine of arguments and support, but also warnings. Terminology management is not a panacea — one respondent used the colorful German expression eierlegende Wollmilchsau, which literally is an animal that produces everything from eggs to wool to milk to meat. Terminology management cannot be that, and it certainly can’t even get close to it if management does not back the endeavor, as another respondent remarked. If you set it up correctly with a long-term view and provide the right support, terminology management can solve many communication problems and can save money. While this last section adds considerably to the length of the publication, it would have been a shame to not share the insights of these veterans.
The authors juxtapose the philosophers Wittgenstein and Watzlawick in part of the discussion on why we have terminology challenges. According to the former, reality is reflected in language, and according to the latter, language creates reality. While technical documentation aims to reflect reality, branding and marketing create reality. When these two views drift too far apart, communication gets dicey. In the United States, branding and marketing experts are more closely associated with sales than content publishing and therefore have more organizational clout. But just as often, these departments don’t know that they might need help in creating new terms and names or they simply forget that the product is to be sold abroad.
This publication makes a good case of why content publishing departments should be the central guardian of corporate concepts and terms. Even in the United States when linguistic issues are hardly on the radar of top managers, the average writer and editor have more linguistic talents than the average engineer. After all, they became engineers to deal with calculations, formulas, zeros and ones. A writer proficient in terminology management theories and practices paired with a subject matter expert can avoid hundreds of downstream errors or problems by spending time on coining a good new term. But we have to get more content creators equipped with the basics first.
It remains to be seen whether the English version of tekom studie: Erfolgreiches Terminologiemanagement im Unterneh- men was localized appropriately to meet the demands of the much less well-developed international terminology market. A mere translation might be too lengthy or appear too academic to evangelize terminology management in the United States where, based solely on my experience, attention spans are generally shorter. What it can be, though, is an educational tool for those who already know a bit about terminology management and who derive value from the Germanic way of organizing information.
In a year where the localization community is embarking on the road to collaboration and standardization from beginning to end of the content supply chain, terminology and with it the tekom Studie deserve attention. Too often terminology is relegated to the margins. Schmitz and Straub demonstrate effectively that many people in an enterprise, from research and development to engineering to content publishing, create or use terms and names and therefore should be applying, be supported by or, at minimum, be aware of terminology practices.