Termbases: the key to consistency

Inconsistent terminology is the main cause of translations needing rework after project completion. Without proper QA procedures in place, subtle inconsistencies can easily be missed until it’s too late. Whether you have smaller excerpts of text for translation over a long period of time, or a one-off large-scale project, your content will strongly benefit from a terminology database.  Well-maintained termbases and glossaries are key for consistent content, helping to avoid costly post-publication amends.

Usually called termbases within the translation industry, these databases contain approved translations of terms along with information pertinent to the usage of the term. Terms are words or expressions that have a precise meaning in the context of a particular field – for example, the word “roller” within the printing-machine manufacturing sector, or “drive” in the IT sector.

What do termbase entries include?

A term and its related information are a termbase entry, and can include:

  • translation of the term into one or multiple languages
  • definition of the term
  • context where it’s found
  • images
  • subject area
  • grammatical information
  • usage
  • verification status

What terms work well in a termbase?

A term works well in a termbase if:

  • there is more than one possible translation
  • the term should be kept in the source language
  • the subject matter is very specialist

How do you build a termbase?

Termbases can be created from a simple Excel spreadsheet and imported into terminology management software or even created directly within this software. We then import the termbase into the computer-assisted translation tool of choice, enabling translators to select the right terms while translating and to also run QA checks which indicate if a term has been mistranslated.

To create the initial list of terms, review existing English documents for specialist terms, or consider any terms from previous translation projects that caused problems. We recommend translating terms prior to the start of a new project.

Once the termbase is built, it’s also helpful to have a maintenance workflow.  Consider a process for editing approved terms and adding new terms; who will be responsible for translating, approving and adding these?

Why you need a termbase…

  • reduce costs – no need to fix translations or reprint brochures.
  • improve productivity – translators and editors can work faster if they have an integrated termbase
  • brand image – keep your company branding consistent and professional
  • restrict string length – if you have content with restricted lengths, a termbase can help to ensure correct string length
  • improve quality – a well-written translation should adhere to the 3 Cs rule:  clear | concise | consistent


Keeping a terminology database proved invaluable in a recent project web-translations handled for Taylor & Francis’ How Researchers Changed the World project, with more than 100K words translated over the course of one year.

This was the first larger-scale translation project I’d worked on, which was complicated further by a couple of staff changes in our team. Marina was invaluable in keeping everything on track, and made sure nothing was missed along the way. The translated version of our campaign has now launched successfully, which is a testament to the quality of the work. Thanks for all your help!

— Alice James,  Content Manager at Taylor & Francis Group