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Linking Up with Words
2010, Q2 (July 11, 2010)
By Kat Hardy

The writer's dilemma: using consistent terminology
The writer's dilemma: using consistent terminology
Social media channels prove valuable in the work that SAS corporate terminologists do to resolve questions about definitions for critical terms.

LinkedIn is a business-oriented social media networking site with more than 60 million users worldwide. In addition to facilitating links between individuals, LinkedIn also brings together groups of people with common interests. There seem to be LinkedIn groups for everything; searches for all the following subjects yielded multiple results: employee communication, customer retention, young actors, business analytics, adult education, beach travel and pharmaceutical data.
LinkedIn also brings together groups of people with common interests.

Corporate Terminologist Sue Kocher has used a LinkedIn terminology group to resolve questions about terminology decisions. The group was set up by a terminologist at IBM, whom Kocher refers to as a “guru in the field.” Membership in the group includes a number of well-known and well-respected corporate terminologists.

In working on terminology issues at SAS, Kocher was frustrated that for some concepts that would be considered “generic” –- terms like view, data source, variable, model, port, index and path – she was finding as many as 15 different definitions.

She put this question out to the LinkedIn terminology group: How do you reconcile multiple definitions for a concept when each of those “definitions” was written with a particular context in mind (in our case, documentation for a particular software product)?

She received 18 comments, “including some from very well-known terminologists,” she said.

“What I found is that others – even the experts – don’t necessarily have all the answers.
What I found is that others – even the experts – don’t necessarily have all the answers.
They’re dealing with the same issues we are, and they’ve been doing it for years,” Kocher said.

Realizing the distinction between “definition” and “description” was a helpful insight Kocher gained through the process.

“Writers would look at an entry for ‘dimension’ and think, ‘That’s not exactly how it works in my product,’ and proceed to write another definition. The result was multiple ‘definitions’ that were actually more like descriptions of the details about dimensions in that particular product,” she said.

Among the helpful responses Kocher received was this one from Robert Bononno, an independent Scientific and Technical Translator: “To write consistent definitions, you need to first determine your audience: general, specialist, industry specific?” he said. “Then, you need to follow 'conventional’ methods for writing a definition and stick to it. No paraphrases, no encyclopedic entries, at least not in a glossary.”

(However, in our SAS termbank, we do provide a field for useful contextual information.)

She also found fellow terminologists to commiserate with. She learned that in the IBM termbase:
  • "Data source" has eight definitions.
  • "Port" has nine definitions.
  • "View" has 16 definitions.
“But ‘variable’ is an example of a success story,” said IBM Terminologist Kara Warburton. “It was reviewed by the terminology review board so that now it has only two definitions, and the first one is ‘shared’ by 20 products. The point here is that reviewing and harmonizing definitions is an ongoing process. Terminology is a corporate asset; (when contributors insist) on unnecessary product versions describing essentially the same concept, (it) is redundant and contrary to corporate best interests.”

Kocher plans to continue to use the LinkedIn group as a reference in her work.

“It’s amazing to have access to so many great minds and with so much experience. The opportunity to collaborate and receive support enriches the work that we all do.”

Copyright © 2010 SAS Institute Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with Permission.

Kat can be reached at Kat dot Hardy at sas dot com. End of article.

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