March 2013
By Tamara Arndt and Rachel Herwartz

Image: © nyul/

Dr. Rachel Herwartz is the owner of TermSolutions – Terminology Solutions & Services. Since 2004 the company has been supporting companies desiring to introduce or optimize terminology management. Various teaching assignments at different universities since 2002 and member of the DIN standards committee for terminology.


Tamara Arndt has been responsible for the web-based terminology management software termxplorer since 2011. She completed her degree in translation for technology and business in 2009 and her Master’s degree in Terminology and Language technical at the technical university of Cologne.



Terminology group, Terminology circle, Terminology committee or
Terminology working group

Definition: Regular or irregular meeting of representatives of different departments of company entities. Under the leadership of a person responsible for terminology they consult on and approve the definition of terms, the use of terms and changes. Also extension of the guideline (processes, database fields and rules) are discussed.

Coordinating terminology

For terminology work across the company it is not enough to add on to technology. Common work processes and the attunement in a terminology group are more important. What should we take into account for doing so?

Whenever processes are concerned around terminology work, the first thing that comes to mind is that technical writers and translators must agree with one another. However, with respect to the source language of the company, it is not these two professionals, but rather the employees in the marketing, development, design, product management and sales departments. They coin the terminology of a company.

Individual phases of terminology work, such as extraction, check and management can be supported by software, e.g. managing terminology in databases or the terminology check of texts. However, it is not possible to automate the coordination of what can or cannot be used. Also, everyone must agree on what should actually hold as relevant terminology for a company.

The coordination process is different in every company

There is no coordination process that can be applied to every company. The coordination process depends greatly on how interlocked or independently different company entities and product lines are created with respect to each other. If there are a lot of terms generally applicable for the company, then the coordination process must also be developed accordingly and integrate representatives from the different departments. However, if individual entities of the company have very little or nothing to do with each other, a coordination process with a joint team of experts from different departments doesn’t make much sense.

Even the timespan in which a product is developed, gives those involved in the process more or less room for play to work on new terms with respect to terminology, to standardize the terminology and align it, before the first documents are delivered. The deciding factor regarding the coordination processes in companies is however the resources that a company makes available for terminology work. Are time and means provided for the terminology work to those responsible for this work or should this happen on the side? How many departments should be a part of or want to participate in the coordination process? Should the department leads themselves participate in joint rounds for coordination and if yes, is this at all realistic from a time and financial point of view?

Let’s take a person responsible for terminology and a guideline

Entirely irrespective of the individual focus of your company, you always require a person responsible for terminology as well as a representative in case of sickness or holiday to take care of terminology work across the company.
A terminology project will flounder without a person holding responsibility for it, one who takes care of the details, coordinates and is available as point of contact. The contact person should be from the company, because an external person usually has too little support and authority for decisions, too little knowledge of internal process flows and also cannot “force” the individual members of the terminology group to an agreement.

Furthermore, you need a single terminology guideline applicable across the company. The fields of the terminology database list, the defined processing, and the rules to form terms or the use of hyphens or working with definitions are defined in it, for example. The guideline can also be split into individual sub-documents for different target groups, such as rules (for all) or processes (only for the terminology group). In case of possible overlaps, the terminology guideline also meshes with rules from technical writing guidelines and translation guidelines that already exist.

When is a terminology group recommended, and when not?

In a coordination process without a terminology group, the terminologist prepares the terms to be coordinated. This means, he already standardizes all terms according to the rules of the guideline and may consult experts before approval. This process is very time consuming, since the person responsible for the terminology must discuss with each expert personally and one after the other, before a functionally sound decision can be taken. In a coordination process with a terminology group the terminologist prepares the terminology requiring consultation according to the guideline and sends it to the group for further functional analysis. If all terms and denotations are run through the terminology group, the meetings become unnecessarily long-drawn. The participants are kept from their actual task of clarifying open points about individual names and terms.

Therefore only new or unclear terms should be discussed in the terminology group. With terminology that has already been standardized and discussed beforehand with experts, the terminology group can concentrate on new or unclear terms and denotations. The time saved is enormous.

If the terminology group cannot agree even after several interventions, a final committee should be referred. The prerequisite always is that the terms have been prepared carefully in advance for the terminology group with the terms requiring consultation, so that procuring unavailable information does not delay the decision. The classic meeting format that brings all participants to the table together offers ideal prerequisites for discussion. Unfortunately, this can be realized only in isolated cases today due to the decentralization of the production and management locations of a company. Web conferencing offers a good alternative. Attention must be paid that all participants remain on top of things, since there is no eye contact.

On the other hand, emails easily lead to misunderstandings, because statements are often not formulated accurately enough. Moreover, as leader of the discussion, one is never sure whether a recipient is not responding to an email anymore because he agrees with the current status of the discussion or because he is simply not interested in the discussion. In many cases recipients are easily “forgotten” or too many recipients are involved.

Execute coordination processes directly in the database

With sufficient access rights, the coordination can take place directly in the terminology management system. However, in order to map company-specific processes it is necessary that the data categories and selection fields can be defined freely. Primarily, the decisions and the reasons for those decisions must be documented in the system. A field at the language level that indicates the status of this language in the coordination process is appropriate for this purpose. For instance, is the term in German language for this term “new”, still “to be clarified” or already “approved”? Or is it currently “in terminology group” for consultation?

Document the decision-makers for a term in a field that you can name “consulted with” or “functional ok” for instance. Furthermore, it is necessary to maintain categories such as “Functional area”, “Department”, “Product group” or “Product line”, since this clarifies the responsibility during the coordination process and in case of questions later.

A complex filter is mandatory in the database

The user can use so-called complex filters to search by all fields that are still on “new” (for the terminologists) or on “to be clarified” (for the terminology group) for a specific area. This results in a list of terms for which it is still necessary to consult on whether the term is allowed or prohibited.

Processes: Recommendations for your company

Check the prerequisites for the terminology work and involve the decision makers: Coordination processes in the company are always company specific. Therefore take the time and evaluate what are the prerequisites of your company and which decision makers should therefore be involved in the coordination process. Perhaps it makes sense currently for your company to set up separate coordination processes and terminology groups for different entities of the company.

Do not plan a terminology project without resources: It is important that you do not start any project without considering the time and means for a person responsible for terminology. The coordination of a terminology project, collecting terminology, standardizing it and preparing and conducting terminology groups costs time.

Listen and respond to the participants of the group: If you note that the coordination is well accepted over a system, but some persons have difficulties with it, then take the time and, at the beginning, personally take the effort to help them. Do not exclude anyone based on technology or coordination methods. If the classic meeting format is the first choice for the terminology group, but the representative from another location cannot participate in it, then set up a regular telephone discussion with him before the terminology group meeting.

Plan a pilot project at the start: All these decisions cannot always be made based on theory. Often you can only first see in practice whether a designed coordination process works or not. Therefore, begin with a manageable pilot project and test your database structure and your coordination processes, before you inform and train the departments.

Systematically extend your database: You can better limit the group of people affected by the coordination with an entity or product-based extension and always discuss terminology only for a specific topic in the terminology group. Even when colleagues push: do not get engaged in generating the greatest possible content as quickly as possible. Pay attention to compliance with the processes and thus also to the quality of the terminology database.

A terminology newsletter, checking tools, comment functions and separate suggestion databases help promote acceptance among users for this continuously growing database and to obtain support across the company for the terminology work.

Further Reading

  • Arndt, Tamara (2012): Unternehmensweite Terminologiearbeit – Eine Kategorisierung von Abstimmungsprozessen und Terminologiekreisen. In: Terminologieprozesse und Terminologiewerkzeuge. Akten des Symposions, Deutscher Terminologie Tag e.V., SDK, München, Köln.
  • Deutscher Terminologie-Tag e. V. (DTT) (2010): Terminologiearbeit – Best Practices. Deutscher Terminologie Tag e.V., München, Köln.