Active terminology management is hard work. It involves making clear and binding selections from the almost unlimited options for naming things. In essence, it is about the following challenges:
Making sure your readers understand: A good example of this is the term “tabulator key”, which I came across once many years ago in some software documentation. Do you know what that is? After a bit of thought you might realise that it is what we would usually just refer to by its short name, the “tab key”. But no one should have to think long and hard about the words used in our documents. Which is why it is important to standardise terminology so that the terms used are understood by your target audience.
Creating clarity: Let’s return to our “USB flash drive/USB memory stick” example. Here we have two options for naming the same item (in other words, they are synonyms). Both terms are correct in regard to meaning, but in terms of consistent standardisation, there must only be one valid option. If you are responsible for terminology, you need to/must make a decision in such cases.
If you are taking on a previously unmanaged field, you are sure to come across many such candidates, no matter whether you are dealing with software, mechanical engineering or medical technology. Technical documentation for complex products is abound with terminology that is just crying out for standardisation: product names, parts and components, user interface text, dialogue elements, key combinations, abbreviations, technical terms and so on.
Ensuring consistency: Terminology work is not just limited to the correct terms for things. As our “plug-ins” example shows, it is also about word formation. To be precise, this example is about when and how hyphens are used. Clear rules can also be defined here. Transitive verbs represent another typical element that requires consistency – as in our “click/click on” example. These play a prominent role in operating instructions and as the indicators for action they should be equally as standardised as the indicators for things.