Sophie Hurst, SDL International

SDL recently conducted two surveys to explore the current trends and opinions on the subject of terminology from within businesses as well as specifically within the translation and localization industry. One survey was conducted to obtain the translator’s perspective of the use and management of terminology from within the translation process. The other was directed at a business audience to look at the effects that terminology has on business issues such as branding and customer satisfaction. Companies such as Citi, Unilever, Disney, GE, Cisco, Philips, Panasonic, Siemens, British Airways, and Verizon participated in the survey.

In this article we will look at the detail of the issues, trends, concerns, and developments raised by both surveys, as well as the links that can be made between the two surveys and the two groups that responded to each. Initially, though, there are several key findings to state before elaborating further:

  • Companies consider terminology management to be key in maintaining a consistent brand.
  • Many companies say they are managing their terms properly, yet inconsistencies in terminology are rife throughout the business.
  • Business professionals and translators alike are less concerned with the cost benefits of terminology management and more concerned with quality and consistency and the effects on external and customer perceptions.

Businesses make the link between terminology and branding

In business today, organizations consider their brand to be one of their most significant and valuable assets. With 96% of survey respondents agreeing that brand consistency is important to their organization, it seems they are fully aware that consistent branding is vital to success.

They are also sensitive to the impact that inconsistencies in terminology can have on the brand, as 95% stated that they were aware of the impact the organization’s use of terms has on the brand. 72% believed inconsistent terminology to have a negative impact on branding and 75% said it would have a negative impact on communication within the organization, which could be considered as important for internal communications but also for internal branding and equally important to consistent branding overall.

83% of respondents believe that product names are the most crucial terminology assets to manage and keep consistent, with 77% saying that corporate terminology is also of similar importance. These are terms that form the backbone of the brand and give the company its identity and differentiation from its competitors.

Another interesting relationship between terminology and the brand is that a slight majority of respondents (44%) believed that marketing has the overall ownership of terminology within the organization, followed closely by technical documentation (42%), and localization (38%). The marketing department of any organization is the brand champion and the driving force behind the majority of brand communications.

Considering such results it is clear that organizations consider consistent terminology to be essential in maintaining a consistent brand, both internally between employees and externally in all brand communications to the customer or prospect. The key question to ask here is what are organizations doing to manage terminology in order to maintain their brand consistency?

Processes for managing terminology and eliminating inconsistencies

One of the major issues raised by the survey was that 49% of respondents said that they did have a process in place for managing terminology, yet a significant 85% revealed that they noticed inconsistent uses of terminology within different departments of the organization—28% noticed inconsistencies frequently and 57% occasionally. The significant lack of correlation between these figures points us to consider that these 49% are not managing their terminology effectively enough to avoid inconsistencies throughout the organization.

The inevitable next question was ‘what type of process do you have for managing your organization’s terminology?’ The two most popular methods were ‘terminology lists in Microsoft Excel’ (33%) and ‘publish terminology in a style guide’ (36%). This may be where the problem resides.

Invariably, style guides are only accessed and utilized by a limited number of people and departments, such as the technical documentation or marketing department. However, terminology is typically used throughout the business. This is indicated by the fact that 61% of respondents said that lists of terms are shared across the organization and that the majority of respondents (31%) revealed that more than 100 people in their organization have access to their terminology. Furthermore, style guides are often only referred to when it is thought that a mistake is being made and they cannot effectively accommodate multilingual terminology, regular changes, updates, or additions of terminology. Although style guides are effective for defining your terminology, they do not fully ensure consistency.

It is a similar case for lists of terminology in Microsoft Excel. Users of spreadsheets of terminology are not always sure they are accessing the most up-to-date version and therefore outdated terms are likely to be used.

Although both these methods are definitely a starting point for gathering and defining the key terms for a business, they are not sophisticated enough to prevent inconsistencies, nor are they adequately accessible to all terminology stakeholders throughout the business. With 49% managing terminology ineffectively and 51% not managing it at all, it is no wonder that 85% of respondents are noticing inconsistencies in the use of terminology throughout the business. It will be interesting to see whether future surveys show a drop in levels of inconsistent terminology as companies begin to address this need with more developed and sophisticated solutions for managing terminology. With 30% of respondents admitting that they would consider a terminology management solution or are planning to implement a solution, it appears that this may be the case.

End-to-end terminology management – quality and consistency issues with global content

The results from the survey to localization professionals revealed similar issues to the survey conducted to enterprises–concerns about consistency, implications on quality, and the need to manage terminology from content creation to translation.

94% of respondents admitted that terminology is very important as part of the translation process. Similarly, 95% said that they had noticed inconsistent uses of terminology in the source content that is to be translated, which makes an interesting comparison with the survey to enterprises which revealed that 85% notice inconsistent uses of terminology within different departments of the organization. There is clearly an issue with inconsistencies in terminology occurring at the source, which is confirmed by both enterprises and translators. The knock-on effect of this is being felt by localization professionals as 76% believe it is ‘very important’ that a terminology management system integrate with authoring tools so that terms are used consistently in the source. Similarly, 77% believe it is ‘very important’ that a terminology management system is integrated into the translation environment. With this in mind, the need for end-to-end terminology management from the enterprise to translator and back seems clear.

The majority of respondents (95%) believe that inconsistencies in terminology have an impact on the quality of translation, whereas only 42% believe it has an impact on the cost of translating and 67% say it impacts their efficiency as translators. Similarly, the majority of respondents to the enterprise survey believed that the main impact of inconsistent terminology was on branding (72%) and communication within the organization (75%), ahead of the cost of translating (65%). Again, an interesting comparison can be made between the two surveys here. Both translators and enterprises are more concerned about the damage inconsistent terminology can do to the external perceptions the customer has of a brand, the service a company offers, and the quality of a translation; than of the cost implications.

The most common method of managing terms for localization professionals was using terminology lists in Microsoft Excel (42%), which correlates with the answers to the same question for enterprises, where 33% use lists in this way. Interestingly, yet not surprisingly, only 6% of localization professionals access terminology in a style guide. This compounds the earlier comments that style guides are not the most effective method of managing multilingual terminology as it is clear that localization professionals are not getting access to this popular method of terminology storage within enterprises.

Localization professionals agree that it is essential to manage terminology, as 87% believe that their productivity would improve if a specific process for managing and storing terminology were implemented. 41% believe that their productivity would improve by 25-50% with a terminology management process and 29% believe that it would improve by 50% or more. The importance of productivity is confirmed by 82% admitting that the most common difficulty they encounter with terminology is the time they take to research the terms. Also, 84% say that they are manually selecting terms from documents as opposed to using a tool to extract terminology, which is a further dent on their productivity.


The results of both surveys highlight clearly that both enterprises and localization professionals are aware of the importance of terminology, its link to the brand and its effect on the whole global content lifecycle—from creation to translation. They are more concerned that inconsistencies in terminology are damaging the external perception of their work and less concerned of the effect this will have on costs.

However, despite the awareness that exists around terminology and the need to store and manage it, it seems that the majority of enterprises and localization professionals, despite believing that they manage terminology, are not managing it effectively or not managing it at all. By using style guides to store terminology, businesses are making a step forward and defining their terminology, but the next step is maintaining, sharing, and applying this consistently across the business.

An important question for the future is ‘will enterprises and localization professionals invest in terminology management tools and processes to address the concerns and needs demonstrated in these surveys?’ If enterprises want to maintain a consistent brand and localization professionals want to improve productivity and quality then the clear answer is ‘yes.’

Survey details

There were 194 respondents to the survey conducted to localization professionals—82% were freelance translators with the final 18% comprised of translators at a language service provider or an in-house translation department, as well as project managers.

There were 140 respondents to the survey conducted to a business audience—respondents to this survey were spread across the business, with marketing (25%), technical documentation (20%), and localization (18%) being the main contributors. The main industries responding to the survey were IT and software (25%), manufacturing (15%), and localization (12%).

About the Author

Sophie Hurst is the Director of Product Marketing at SDL, responsible for all their product lines, which help improve the end-to-end process of delivering global content. She speaks 5 languages, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and during her experience at various IT companies has gained an excellent understanding of the cultural, linguistic and business challenges faced by organizations doing global business.

About SDL

SDL is the leader in Global Information Management (GIM) solutions that empower organizations to accelerate the delivery of high-quality multilingual content to global markets. Its enterprise software and services integrate with existing business systems to manage the delivery of global information from authoring to publication and throughout the distributed translation supply chain.

Global industry leaders rely on SDL to provide enterprise software or hosted services for their GIM processes, including ABN-Amro, Best Western, Bosch, Canon, Chrysler, CNH, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Philips, SAP, Sony, SUN Microsystems and Virgin Atlantic.

SDL has implemented more than 500 enterprise GIM solutions, has deployed over 170,000 software licenses across the GIM ecosystem and provides access to on-demand translation portals for 10 million customers per month. Over 1,000 service professionals deliver consulting, implementation and language services through its global infrastructure of more than 50 offices in 30 countries. For more information, visit