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Terminology work in Brief

Heidi Suonuuti, 1997

An annex to Guide To Terminology



Organize the work
  • Set up a working group of 5—8 subject specialists.
  • Hire a trained terminologist to assist the group. This will speed up the work and improve the quality of the resulting terminology.
  • Collect information about the principles, methods and practicies in terminology work. International standards published by ISO/TC 37 contain useful information.
  • Arrange an introductory tutorial in practical terminology work for all members of the group.
  • Determine your target group and evaluate its needs.
  • Delimite your subject field. Note the sub-fields to be covered and those to be excluded.
  • Choose the languages to be dealt with.
  • Collect vocabularies and other documents published in the subject field concerned.
  • Collect texts in which relevant concepts can be identified. NOTE — Useful information may be found in various types of documentation.
  • Evaluate the documentation or its reliability and relevance. Use translated material with caution.
  • Decide on the number of concepts to be included.
  • Draw up a detailed schedule.
  • Select the recording medium and record format. Use a computer if possible.
Record and structure the information
  • Analyze the documentation and identify the concepts belonging to the subject field.
  • Select the concepts to be included and structure them into concept systems. Use diagrams to organize the concept systems. Check and correct gaps or overlaps in or between the systems. NOTE — When working with a multilingual terminology, structure the concept systems separately for each language separately for each language
  • Collect and record terms, definitions and other relevant information from the source documentation. Consult subject field specialists.
Define the concepts
  • Follow the concept systems when writing the definitions. In generic concept systems, base your definition on the nearest superordinate concept. When necessary in partitive or associative concept systems, use a general term. Examples of useful words are property, action, science, device, process, system. Word combinations like part of [device], element in [system], component of [system] indicate partitive relations, and result of [action], product of [process] indicate associative relations. The rest of the definition describes how the concept differs from the related concepts in the same system.
  • Quote standards or other reliable sources, whenever possible. Note the source in square brackets, i.e. [ISO 2382-1:1993].
  • Don't write or quote definitions that do not place the concept adequately in your concept system. If a definition quoted from an authorized source has to be redrafted, be careful not to change the concept's intension or extension.
  • Write definitions that will be useful for the intended user. Highly technical expressions, such as mathematical formulas, do not meet the needs of laypersons. On the other hand, the requirements of a specialist would not be met by a definition that did not provide technical information.
  • Don't replace definitions by illustrations.
  • Describe only one concept per definition. Any concept that requires an explanation shall be defined separately.
Avoid definitions errors
  • Don't write definitions which are too broad or too narrow. Include only the characteristics necessary to identify the concept. Any additional information may be included as a note or an example.
  • Avoid drafting a definition that applies only to a specific circumstance. Indicate the subject field of a definition, when necessary, to avoid confusion. This is particularly relevant when a term refers to more than one concept. For example, <organic chemistry>, <public transit>.
  • Don't use the term of the concept being defined or any grammatical variation thereof in the definition (internal circle).
  • Don't write definitions where one concept is defined by another which in turn is defined by the first (external circle).
  • Write definitions which describe what the concept is, not what it is not.
Formulate the definitions
  • Be brief. Write concise definitions in one sentence.
  • Use only common general language words, terms that are self-explanatory to the target group, and special terms that have been defined elsewhere in your vocabulary.
  • Use preferred terms to refer to concepts already defined.
  • Use the same part of speech in the definition as in the term. Use a verb or verbal phrase when defining a verb, a noun when defining a noun, etc.
  • Check the form of the definitions: singular form, lower case letter, no article at the beginning, no full stop at the end, etc.
Select the terms
  • Evaluate the terms and classify them according to their acceptability rating, e.g. preferred, depracetd, obsolete etc.
  • Find the term equivalents and denote their degree of equivalency.
  • If a term refers to more than one concept ("has more than one meaning"), it shall have more than one entry as long as the other concepts are relevant to the subject field in question.
Finalize the draft
  • Select the form and order of the entries.
  • Draw up the introductory elements and indexes of the vocabulary.
  • Have your definitions read and terms checked by a native-language speaker and a subject field specialist to ensure that they are adequate and clear.
Note that in practice the steps of the working process may occur simultaneously.