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The Importance of Terminology

In 2015, the Paris climate accord almost fell apart because of a debate over two terms, “shall” or “should.” These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they have very different legal implications. Shall means an entity is legally obligated, while should denotes that an entity has to attempt to comply. The G77 and other developing countries said: “shall should not become should. Should shall become should, all should think again.” It was agreed upon that there had been a “typographical error” when teams were transferring lines from one draft of the text to another.

In a world where localization is becoming more and more important, terminology management is an indispensable piece of the localization process. Correctly defined terminology can help people across numerous industries communicate more effectively and efficiently.

The important of terminology - 1

Ensure Accuracy and Consistency

When you have your terminology clearly defined, you create approved terms that should be used universally across an organization. More often than not, many in-country reviewers will translate terms based on their own preferences. As a result, the terms used for a product, service or a brand may have different translations from one version to another.

With defined terminology, you mitigate the risk that the wrong terms are being used, which can significantly affect the translations. Using the approved terminology will make sure that the content is consistently written and the terms are accurately translated.

For example, there are many terms with multiple meanings. Words like bark (dog or tree), nails (fingernails or a hammered nail), mine (possessive adjective or a place to find precious metals), season (winter or spice) and current (happening now or the speed of flow of a liquid or electricity) can have very different meanings depending on the context. If a translator doesn’t know exactly how you are using a term with multiple meanings, your translated message could lose its meaning.

Drive Down Cost

A terminology guide makes it clear to everyone on a project team which terms they should use and which to avoid. As a result, there will be less editing and revising required, saving time and money. The same logic holds with the translation and localization process. A translation team should only use the approved translations for the corresponding source terms, which can result in lower costs if the terms are already stored in the Translation Memory and can be leveraged. Furthermore, it will also decrease the time and effort for editing and proofreading the translations as the terms should remain the same throughout the documents.

Create a Clear Brand Voice

Carefully defined terminology can also help your team members and customers understand the brand’s voice. It is crucial that an organization has a clear voice for its brand and this will help with global recognition. You might need to localize your brand’s messaging depending on the different locales you target, but the core voice and tone should remain the same.

For example, McDonald’s advertising slogan: “I am loving it” is, technically speaking, grammatically incorrect as “love” is a sedative verb and should not be used in the progressive tense. However, no one will edit the slogan to “I love it” as the advertising slogan is recognizable and has become how the company promotes the brand.


Terminology plays a crucial role in the translation and localization process. Once you have your terminology defined, it will help to create a more accurate and consistent localized version of your product, website or documentation. In return, well-designed terminology management can drive your translation costs down, promote a more unified company brand and attract more customers.