Terminology Management Systems

by Ann-Cathrin Mackenthun on May 03, 2013

Inconsistent use of terminology makes it more difficult to communicate in an organization. It also leads to misunderstandings. A terminology management system can solve this problem. The software manages all your company-specific terms and improves communication. Employees have access to an always up-to-date corporate terminology and can even participate in defining new terms.

Yet, choosing a system can be challenging. There are quite a number of software solutions available. They all come with different features and in different price categories.

This article outlines the most important factors you should consider before introducing a terminology management system. It focuses on three major features: (1) terminology management, (2) terminology extraction, and (3) terminology control.

1. Terminology Management

Ideally, a terminology management system organizes its entries in three layers: concept, language, and term. Also, it has a concept-oriented and term-autonomous approach. A concept-oriented approach means that an entry is based on real-world objects or issues. A concept can contain many terms, for example, synonyms or abbreviations. Term autonomy guarantees that each permitted or prohibited term can be assigned the same number of features. This way, you can easily exchange permitted or prohibited terms, if necessary.

The system should provide drop-down lists for individual fields, for example, for parts of speech or gender. If the user can add graphics or videos, terms can be better identified.

Instead of limiting terminology work to terminologists, you should involve other departments in creating and evaluating terminology. This way, you ensure that the needs of the staff that actually uses terminology are met. You will also increase the acceptance of new terms. To motivate  departments to actively participate in terminology work, your terminology management system comes with functions for term proposals and commentaries. It also provides statistics about user groups, their search behavior, (for example, searched/found orthographic variants), and frequencies of search queries. Terminologists can use this data to add required terms or subject areas.

Terminology management systems primarily enable users to search for terms. Therefore, the search function of your system is fault-tolerant and offers, among other things, a phonetic search that corrects typing errors. The search function should accept placeholders (*) and display related terms in the result list (truncation). Many terminology management systems offer filters that sort the search results according to subject areas and languages.

Your new terminology systems should be integrated in your corporate network. Consider an old-fashioned Excel list that was originally created by one employee and is now maintained by several. Not only will the list be outdated soon, your staff will possibly use many local versions of it not knowing which one is up-to-date. So make sure your terminology management system provides functions for centralized data repository and maintenance. You can also purchase a web-based system, which you access online.

Depending on the size and field of your organization, you may have to create several terminology databases. We recommend big organizations to separate terminology according to individual business areas. Often, service providers require several databases as they collect individual terminology for customers.

2. Terminology Extraction

If your terminology management system can extract terminology from existing documents, you can detect and manage terms much faster than with a manual search. This way, the system analyzes the vocabulary that is used in your organization and creates new terms based on the extracted terminology. The import of existing terminology lists will also facilitate automatic terminology extraction.

Before introducing a terminology system, you should check whether your preferred format for importing and exporting data (TBX, CSV) is supported. Check also whether imported lists can be edited, printed, and filtered, for example, by department and date.

3. Terminology Control

Corporate terminology can be improved by constant quality control. Many terminology systems provide the corresponding measures and display company-specific quality control processes.

Most terminology management systems offer comprehensive user right and user role management. This allows you to allocate different access rights to user roles. You can, for example, control access rights for customers, or limit rights of translators to individual languages.

And finally, the terminology management system should be integrated in your corporate authoring tools. The system should come with plug-ins for tools like FrameMaker, InDesign, and Word. Ideally, the author should be able to check terms while writing and editing, without additional clicks or having to start another program. The system should enable terminologists to directly add and edit terms from the authoring tool.


  • Saft, M. (2010): Terminologiemanagement mit System. In: technische kommunikation, H. 1, S. 44–46.
  • Hennig, J./Tjarks-Sobhani, M. (2008): Terminologiearbeit für technische Dokumentation; Schriften zur technischen Kommunikation, Band 12.
  • tekom-Studie (2010): Erfolgreiches Terminologiemanagement im Unternehmen.

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