All those involved in the compilation of a terminological vocabulary have to know or find a solution to a number of questions before they can even start the actual work. Where does one start, where does one find realiable sources of information and what information should one collect? How does one organise and record the information and when does a computer become helpful? How are the different languages kept separate, the definitions written and how does one organise the whole process? These questions arise every time a terminological project is launched and therefore it makes sense to try to apply ready answers that have been tried and tested in practice. The basic methods of project management are well suited for terminology work. Practical details encountered in the work are also such that they can usually be handled by standardized methods/models. A list of useful structural standards and drafts is given on page 8.
Different and less frequent questions concern the quality of the vocabulary. Often the issue of quality only emerges at later stages of the terminology project, or after the vocabulary has been published. Yet, even if the collection of terms is based on the best sources available, it should not be published as such. The most important indicator of a vocabulary's quality is its internal coherence, which includes clear and non-contradictory relationships between the concepts, definitions and terms. This coherence can only be achieved through a systematic elaboration of the material. The aim of this work is to present a concise guide to the principles and methods of systematic terminology work, and show how these can be applied in practice. Since this work is in booklet form, it does not cover all information needed. For this reason, additional information is available in the basic standards mentioned on page 8. They are the required reading for the secretaries of terminological work groups. The most helpful asset in actual terminology work is, however, long experience and practice in the field. Therefore, a competent terminologist can offer indispensable help to overcome the inevitable hurdles that turn up in all terminological projects. First-time terminology groups are strongly encouraged to consult an experienced terminologist, whenever possible.
The first impression of systematic terminology work may be that, although it obviously enhances quality, the method seems to be far too complicated, time-consuming and expensive to apply. In fact, this is not true. Again, long-term experience and the statistical evidence acquired from earlier projects have shown that, after the initial threshold of learning, application of terminological methods actually speeds up the work process and lowers the total costs considerably.
This guide is a by-product of international standardization. The initial impetus came from the users who felt that they needed a compact introduction to the principles and methods of practical terminology work. A number of valued colleagues as well as terminologically-minded subject field specialists from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada and Austria have greatly helped me with their useful and perceptive comments. I wish to thank them all.
Helsinki, December 1996
The revised second edition of the Guide to Terminology contains only a few changes: obvious mistakes and omission have been corrected.
When the Guide to Terminology was initially compiled in 1996—1997, no simple, compact guide to terminology was yet available. The international standards were much too theoretic and complicated for practical terminology work and revised editions were only under planning. In most cases, the vocabularies for special purposes are compiled by groups of professionals representing the special field in question. Such groups often take a dislike to theory as they find it rather useless. It was felt therefore, that a guide introducing the least amount of theory necessary for teminology work with the help of examples was needed. In my opinion, the necessity for the guide was proved by the fact that it was rapidly translated into four languages: Esperanto, Croatian, Chinese and Spanish (which, however, has not been published yet).
In the past years, a new set of international standards has been published. These standards are more practical and compact than before. Regardless, it seems that this guide still has a place as an introduction to the world of terminology.
Esperanto: Terminologia gvidilo, 1998. ISBN 92-9017-057-3.
Croatian: Upute za nazivlje, 1999. ISBN 953-6783-00-2.
Helsinki, September 2001