Terminology is about choosing your words carefully and consistently
Terminology is about choosing your words carefully and consistently

Terminology is a very important part of the job of a technical communicator – whether it involves developing new terms for a project or following a pre-established list of terms. By using the rule “1 term = 1 concept”, the consistency of the content is maintained within documents, between documents, and between writers. This leads to improved quality as well as reduced costs and time, for both content development and translation.

On the other hand, being consistent about the terms used takes extra effort. No wonder that technical communicators are often seen by their colleagues from other departments as pedantic and overly detail-oriented when it comes to their emphasis on terminology. Nonetheless, the benefits of using consistent terms go way beyond the faster and cheaper development of technical documents. The following paragraphs illustrate with concrete examples how integrating terminology to a global content strategy can improve customer satisfaction and boost corporate image.

Help your customers help themselves — terminology to improve customer satisfaction

Bill’s story

Bill has bought an electric razor from ABCtech but now needs a new AC/DC adapter. The AC/DC adapter is described in the user manual delivered with the razor. He wants to order it online, so he searches on Google for “AC/DC adapter ABCtech”. The search returns nothing relevant. Although the user manual refers consistently to “AC/DC adapter”, the website refers (just as consistently!) to “power supply”. Bill might find, with some additional effort, what he is looking for, or he might think of calling the customer support (which generates extra costs for ABCtech). Or he might go ahead and buy a whole new razor because he concludes that the AC/DC adapter is not available separately. His satisfaction with the product drops. He is much less likely to buy products again from ABCtech.

What to take away?

With about 60 billion pages indexed on Google, finding the right content is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Helping your customers have easy access to the information they need when they need it leads to happy customers, while reducing your support costs. Happy customers are more likely to be loyal customers. Regardless of the type of content, a company-wide content strategy should include terminology: “1 concept = 1 term”.

SEO meets terminology — terminology to boost corporate image

The story of Catherine, Andrew and Simon

Catherine writes an email to Andrew about the product feature “EasyID”. In his answer, Andrew spells the product name as “Easy-ID”. An email is informal communication and does not, in theory, require spell checking of product names. But this email conversation gets forwarded to Simon from marketing, who copies a paragraph directly from the email as content for the website. The English website now includes different writings of the same product name; not to mention the repercussions on the consistency of the translation.

What to take away?

These inconsistencies look very unprofessional for (potential) customers. But further than that, the website might be penalized by search engines, like Google, as the keywords are not repeated between pages. As a result, the website might be ranked #6 instead of #3 in the organic search results. Customers will have more trouble accessing those pages when searching with keywords in a search engine. Nowadays, companies spend a lot of money on online marketing and the implementation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) keywords. Their goal is to optimize their ranking in the organic search results of certain keywords. Content strategy should always involve the implementation of consistent terminology: using the same terms throughout the content (webpage, user manual, datasheet, order form, service request, etc.) can boost visibility and greatly improve corporate image!

And now what?

Is terminology about details? Yes. Are those details worth the effort? Most definitely. And the benefits go way beyond technical documentation. A content strategy that reaches across departments, products, and publishing media, and that includes global terminology management, can boost company success. If you are a product manager, a marketing expert or an SEO specialist: go ahead and get involved in the terminology efforts of your company! Everybody will win!

Are you interested in learning more about terminology and technical communication? Check out the online Master’s Degree in Technical Communication and Localization (TCLoc) from the University of Strasbourg.

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