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The easiest way to confuse your audience

(OR, Why you should use terminology management as a business tool)

Do you spend a lot of time writing business materials for your company? This could be web copy, sales and marketing collateral, reports, presentations or white papers.

You focus on the content, tone, style and presentation of your writing to make sure your words have the greatest impact.

But do you stop to think that you might be unintentionally complicating your message, confusing your readers and in turn, increasing your translation costs?

Why words matter…

‘Bad terminology is the enemy of good thinking’ – Warren Buffett

Every industry has its own internal style of communication. To an outsider, it’s just jargon, to an insider, it’s a way of effectively communicating valuable information, shared knowledge and industry-specific concepts.

Often the language used a specialised field of activity has a different meaning from that used in everyday communication. For example, in the oil and gas industry, Christmas Trees, rams, and fishing don’t mean the same thing you and I probably think they do.

Most companies will use some sort of company-specific language to describe the products and services they offer, as well as distinguish these from comparable products produced by their competitors.

Even within a single company, the terminology used by the product development, marketing, production, and sales teams to refer to the exact same item might all be different.

That’s why you should think about terminology management. Because getting it right can strengthen your company’s communication, making it more effective, as well as reinforcing your brand identity and company culture.

So what is terminology management?

It’s a series of processes and tools used to organise terminology within a field of activity.

Effective terminology management plays a significant role in harmonising the language used across your business.

Although it might not seem to be a priority compared with other business activities, such as creating stimulating content, developing lean and agile production processes, or adhering to regulatory standards, the cost to an organisation for failing to consider terminology management can be substantial.

Time and money can easily be wasted – and in some industries, lives endangered – when individuals communicate at cross-purposes.

Inconsistent use of terminology can cause confusion and misunderstanding, increase the number of customer service issues, or increase the time and cost of completing translations.

It can also look scruffy when terms are used inconsistently, giving the impression that your business just doesn’t really care enough to pay attention to detail.

‘The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms’ – Socrates

On the other hand, good terminology management provides everyone in an organisation with a common language and makes communication more effective and efficient. It creates a sense of identity and shared purpose, making sure that communication is consistent.

Terminology management aims to standardise the language used so that concepts are clearly expressed.

Of course, we all have our own individual language preferences, but compromise is important because what really matters is that an agreement is reached on the most suitable terms to use and that everyone buys into the principle that the terminology is used consistently.

Every language has a rich store of synonyms that can be used interchangeably. But in some situations, synonyms can cause unnecessary confusion to the reader who then thinks: ‘Are we still talking about the same thing or are we now talking about something different?’

We might pride ourselves on being able to use a rich and extensive vocabulary (it panders to our ego) but the reality is that most business communication needs to be written in plain, simple language to facilitate easy comprehension and communication. (Don't confuse plain language with 'dumbing-down' language, it's not the same thing).

Plan, plan, plan

Initially, it may take a lot of planning to design a terminology management system. You will want to think about the role it will play in your organisation, analyse the resources you currently have, identify and involve key stakeholders and decide how to finance the development and maintenance of the system.

However, once these steps have been taken, creating the terminology lists and style guides may be straightforward. These can be shared with your translators to ensure consistency across the different languages used in your company.

In the long term, it will benefit and contribute to clearer and more effective communication both inside and outside your organisation.

If you would like more information about how to implement a terminology management system into your business processes, please contact me for a no-obligation chat.

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