November 2013
By Dr. Klaus-Dirk Schmitz

Image: © jmhoy/

Dr. Klaus-Dirk Schmitz, graduate in computer science, has been professor for translation related terminology science at the Institute for Translation and Multilingual Communication at Cologne University of Applied Sciences since 1992. He is also managing director of the Institute for Information Management and Deputy Chairman of the German Terminology Association [ Deutschen Terminologie-Tags (DTT)] and  Chairman of the DIN/NAT/AA 5 “Systeme für die Verwaltung von Terminologie, Wissen und Content“ [Systems to manage terminology, knowledge and content]



The terminologist

Terminology managers coordinate the creation and management of terminology across the organization. In some organizations technical writers or translators take up this task. However, more and more often trained specialists, namely terminologists, are being sought for this job today.

Correct and consistent terminology is a prerequisite for technical communication and knowledge transfer. Therefore, terminology is required for any texts with technical content, irrespective of whether these texts are created, consolidated, translated, interpreted or just read and understood. Even standardization cannot work without defined terminology, since technical specifications can be clear only if the functional words used are defined clearly. Over the past years, companies and organizations have come to recognize that integrated terminology management for a standard company language ensures not only quality and consistency of technical documentation and translation, but also supports the process optimization, customer support and loyalty as well as brand protection [1].

Translation and language service providers can offer high value quality products and value added services through terminology management, which form the basis for enduring collaboration between customers and service providers.

Who works with terminology?

The previous paragraphs show that terminology concerns mainly the following user groups who require knowledge about the theory of terminology, terminology work and computer aided terminology management.

Terminology users: All persons (groups) participating in technical communication and knowledge transfer. They consult terminology databases in printed or electronic form to understand or produce texts with technical content.

Terminology producers: All persons (groups) that develop, standardize and manage terminological information within their sphere of domain-specific language activity. These are primarily professionals from technical communication, translation and localization, who work on the terminology along with their primary activity. Even company employees working in product development, parts management, marketing, customer support, training or corporate communication are involved in coining and standardizing terminology. But the main producers of terminology are of course terminologists.

Terminology managers: All persons (groups) involved in planning, setting up and implementing terminology processes and computer aided terminology solutions in an organizational environment. Although they do not use and create terminological information, they are responsible for the modeling and flow of terminology processes, as well as the design, selection and provision of information technology for terminology work. Next to the terminologists themselves, this group of people also includes language technologists, computer scientists, project managers or those responsible for the quality management in the company.

It is often not possible to accurately demarcate the mentioned target groups, since specific persons or groups such as freelance translators or freelance technical writers count among the users as well as the producers and must take over the tasks of a terminology manager within their own organizational environment.

What does the job profile look like?

A more exact specification of terminology related areas of activity in companies and organizations can be found in the reference literature [2], as well as in module 6 “Berufsprofile und Anforderungen” [job profiles and requirements] [3].

Along with an entrance test that determines the individual requirement for terminology related knowledge and suggests corresponding learning units, the e-learning program ELCAT also offers individually recommended learning units for terminology for different target groups [4]. This program is oriented towards the content of terminology and developed by the Cologne University of Applied Sciences in collaboration with partners from the automotive industry and relevant software producers. The following target groups are named:

  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Standardization
  • Product development
  • Technical documentation incl. spare parts documentation
  • Terminologists
  • Translators, language service, foreign language training
  • Corporate communication

Even if different groups of people work on individual sub-tasks of the terminology process along with their actual primary activity, for many years there has been a need for experts concentrating completely and solely on terminology work and terminology management. This gave rise to the job profile of the terminologist, which is defined as follows [5]:

“Terminologists are experts in formulating, describing, managing and distributing mono- and multi-lingual terminologies. They work in all areas that are concerned with data, information, knowledge and communication. Terminology work is an interdisciplinary activity; therefore terminologists very often work with professionals from different subject fields.“

Terminologists often work in companies and organizations and are usually positioned in departments for technical documentation, translation, standards and patents, corporate communication or research and development. Terminologists also work with major language service providers to specifically support translation projects for instance or to execute terminology projects for external customers.

Challenging work is also to be found in standardization and language planning organizations, as well as in publishing houses. Terminology work is even conceivable on a freelance basis; here you would advice and train private organizations, non-profit organizations and public institutions on applying terminological methods, data and tools, and execute terminology projects for them [5].


What are the tasks?

The typical tasks of terminologists include:

  • Developing mono- or multilingual terminology databases, as well as standardizing and coining new terms or defining concepts
  • Terminology planning activities, such as setting up and controlling terminology workflows in companies for implementing a standard corporate language or to calculate the cost effectiveness of terminology  
  • Preparing (electronic) terminology collections, i.e. design, implementation and operation of terminology databases, including the selection of corresponding tools and their integration in the IT landscape of the company
  • Consulting and training activities

Typical tools for these activities are terminology management systems, i.e. programs for managing terminology data. In addition to this, terminologists also use software for terminological analysis of existing texts (concordance programs, terminology extraction software) as well as to check the correct usage of terms in texts (terminology checker, quality assurance programs). Knowledge of programs that support technical writers and translators in their work and that must provide interfaces to terminology management is also required, i.e. content management systems, CAT tools or even machine translation systems.

What is the required knowledge?

Terminologists need specific knowledge about the science of terminology, terminology work and information technology for terminology management, to be able to work on the said tasks and activities. Excellent language competence in the native language is required, often in foreign languages as well. If terminologists are working in the area of research and teaching, additional didactic qualifications and qualifications in scientific theory are necessary.

Along with this inherent terminological and linguistic knowledge, terminologists require other knowledge and skills for their work, and these can vary in importance depending on the area of work and tasks. Next to so-called soft skills such as communication skills, power of persuasion and argumentative ability, other skills mentioned here are a systematic work approach, abstract thinking skills or “flair for detection” [3, 5]. Some of these capabilities can be trained and developed during further education and training; in many cases such qualifications can only be learnt in practice or must exist before further education and training [2].

What are the existing educational or training paths?

Many people working as terminologists today acquired the basic knowledge and skills needed for terminology work during their education. Several years ago, diploma study programs for technical writing, translation or interpretation at universities or technical colleges included terminology related study modules with theoretical and practical content. There was hardly ever an independent academic program for terminologists.

With the implementation of the Bologna recommendation, many educational institutions have developed and implemented new modular and usually graded curricula in the area of technical writing or translation and interpretation. In spite of varied concepts regarding the orientation and the training profile for bachelor and master study programs, the observed tendency is towards increasingly considering the practical requirements of the profession and integrating specific modules with terminological content in the curricula.

What is the study duration?

Often there are smaller study modules with terminological content from the areas of theory, terminology work and terminology management within the bachelor curricula that usually run for six or seven semesters, irrespective of what the study programs may be called. The masters study programs that often run for three or four semesters normally build on the corresponding bachelor programs and impart specific, advanced pragmatic and scientific knowledge in the areas of technical communication or translation, but also in related professional fields. The masters programs that are supposed to continue the tradition of the old diploma education at higher functional and scientific level have names like “Technical Communication”, Media Communication”, “International Professional Communication”, “Specialist translation” or “Translation” and include study modules with terminological content almost everywhere.

However, the offering of master study programs provided the opportunity of including comprehensive study components on terminology in one curriculum for the first time, e.g. as MA “ Specialist Translation and Terminology” or even a significantly independent study program for training towards becoming terminologists, e.g.  MA “Terminology and Language Technology”.

Where is further education and training available?

An overview of university programs (in German) with terminology study modules is offered by the German terminology portal as well as by the professional associations:

Along with full time academic programs, there is a great need for terminological training. This can be obtained through day-long elementary seminars (e.g. the German DTT-Seminar “Terminologiearbeit – Grundlagen, Werkzeuge, Prozesse“ [Terminology work – basics, tools, processes]) or topic or product specific courses (e.g. SDL-Webinar “Taking Control of Terminology“) or through multiple day trainings (e.g. “International Terminology Summer School”) to longer and more comprehensive educational and qualification courses (e.g. vocational certificate course “Terminology” by ZHaW Winterthur, in German).

Often training offerings are supported by e-learning modules that are aimed at making it simpler for professionals to qualify while continuing their work routine. The simple e-learning course on terminology can be found on the German terminology portal ( – Was ist Terminologie?[ What is terminology?]), and the interactive and modular ELCAT terminology learning system (in German and English) oriented towards individual target groups is also mentioned. The “ECQA Certified Terminology Manager” also fulfills the practical requirement for confirmation of the terminological knowledge that has often been acquired during the daily work routine. The certification program for different levels of terminological qualifications is offered by TermNet.

Reference literature

[1]    Rat für Deutschsprachige Terminologie e.V. (2010):  Knowledge, Brands and Customer Loyalty - Terminology as a Critical Success Factor.

[2]    Drewer, Petra; Schmitz, Klaus-Dirk (2013): Terminology Management in Technical Communication – Principles, Methods, Training. In: Proceedings of the European Colloquium on Technical Communication 2012. S. 50–61. tcworld GmbH, Stuttgart.

[3]    Deutscher Terminologie Tag e.V. (2010): Best-Practices-Ordner: Terminologiearbeit.

[4]    Elcat

[5]    Rat für Deutschsprachige Terminologie e.V. (2004): Professional Profile for Terminologists.