Optimizing Translation Projects with Effective Glossaries: A Comprehensive Guide


  1. What Is a Translation Glossary?

  2. Why Prepare a Glossary Before Starting Translation Projects?

  3. How Do Translation Glossaries Impact the Quality and Speed of Translation Projects?

  4. What Are the Steps to Create an Effective Translation Glossary?

  5. How to Choose Terms for Your Translation Glossary?

  6. What Information Should Be Included in a Translation Glossary?

  7. How to Structure a Translation Glossary for Maximum Clarity and Efficiency?

  8. Practical Guide to Creating a Translation Glossary: What Tools and Processes Work Best?

  9. Automatic vs. Manual Term Extraction: Which Is Better for Glossary Creation?

  10. How to Keep Your Translation Glossary Updated and Relevant?



Introduction to Translation Glossaries

A translation glossary is a crucial resource, cataloguing essential terms in a source language alongside their equivalents in a target language. Beyond mere word lists, these glossaries often include invaluable context, ensuring terms are applied accurately across various documents. For translation professionals and localization teams, the preliminary step of crafting a glossary streamlines workflow, significantly reducing terminological research and minimizing revisions post-delivery.


The Crucial Role of Glossaries in Enhancing Translation Quality

In specialized fields such as health sciences, the precision of terminology is non-negotiable. Terms that are obscure or multifaceted in meaning can derail the translation process without a well-defined glossary, necessitating labour-intensive research or direct clarification from clients. A meticulously prepared glossary accelerates translation and safeguards the integrity of the translated content, ensuring terminological consistency both within a single project and across multiple projects within the same domain.


Strategic Preparation of Translation Glossaries

Preparing a translation glossary is an art, demanding thoughtful consideration of which terms to include, the extent of contextual detail needed, and the optimal structure for easy access and application. This guide outlines a step-by-step approach to constructing a glossary that will be a linchpin for translation accuracy and efficiency.

Selection of Terms: Identify and list key terms critical to the project's subject matter and likely to cause ambiguity or require specific knowledge.
Contextualization: Provide clear definitions and, where applicable, usage examples to clarify the context in which each term should be used.
Standardization: Ensure the glossary adheres to existing terminology standards within the target industry or the client's requirements.

Practical Guide to Glossary Creation

For those looking to develop a comprehensive translation glossary, our guide includes a detailed flowchart outlining the process from conceptualization to implementation. This visual aid simplifies the glossary creation process, making it accessible even to those new to the field of translation.



Figure 1: overall flowchart of the glossary creation process.



  1. Creating a file in Excel


    Create an Excel file with a name identifying it as a glossary and the subject/product line to which it refers. In the case of a general glossary of terms used by the company, make this clear in the name assigned.


Figure 2: example of name for a specific product glossary.


Figure 3: example of name for a general company glossary.

As far as the file's structure, make sure it has at least two columns:

One column for terms in the source language (which can be named "Source", for example); 
One column for the term in the target language (which can be called "Target", for example).


Figure 4: example of glossary with the two columns.

You now have the basic structure to start the glossary. In addition to these two columns, we recommend two more:

  • One containing the terms applicable in the pertinent context, allowing the translator to quickly consult the adequacy of the translation found in the glossary to the project being done. This column can be called, for example, "Context";
  • One column for remarks and important notes considered necessary in helping the linguistic process, which can also be used to include references for understanding the term. This column can be called, for example, "Notes".

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Figure 5: example of glossary with the four columns described.


     2. Identify key terms or expressions in the source language

Now that the glossary has its structure, you must identify the key terms or expressions to be included in the glossary. This task may be done manually or automatically. Automatic extraction can be beneficial, particularly in the case of very long texts requiring extensive time to assess manually. Even so, remember that automatic extraction must be followed by a critical evaluation of the suitability of the terms extracted. Ideally, a combination of manual assessment/automation should be used to quickly create a glossary with a high-quality level. Consult the definitions and specific nature of each type of extraction below:


  • Automatic extraction of glossary terms: an automated assessment done by specific software and tools to identify relevant terms or expressions per criteria predefined by the person doing the extraction. Depending on the extraction tool employed, these criteria may include the following definitions: maximum number of words of the term, frequency of the term's occurrence, and list of words to be ignored, among others.  The automatic extraction will generate a list of terms that should undergo subsequent human evaluation about their relevance: with a decision to keep, remove, add or change the terms according to their suitability.


    Consult the flowchart for this process in the following figures, with examples of a list via automatic extraction and the same after critical evaluation. In the example, the number of terms has remained the same, but the terms themselves have been changed according to their suitability.



Figure 6: flowchart of the automated extraction process.

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Figure 7: example of page from original document¹ (left) and list of candidate terms extracted automatically from this page (right).

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Figure 8: example of a list of terms chosen (right) per a critical assessment of the list of candidates shown in Figure 7 and on the left in this figure for comparative purposes.

  • Manual extraction of glossary terms: done through an overall critical assessment of the source text by someone knowledgeable about the subject/product line/company requirements to identify and extract terms and expressions that may be relevant for the glossary being built, following predefined criteria.

    Consult the flowchart for this process in the following figures and an example of a manually extracted list. Compare it with the list obtained via automatic extraction shown above, and note the different terms that can be found using the two types of extraction.


Figure 9: flowchart of the manual extraction process

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Figure 10: example of page from original document² (left) and list of terms selected by the specialist (right).

For the above two types of extraction, criteria must be established about the terms and expressions considered relevant for the glossary. Identifying words that appear frequently (e.g., "applicant" in the example in Figure 10) and/or are uncommon or specific to the area of knowledge to which the text refers (e.g., "propylparaben" from Figure 7 and from Figure 10).

The glossary needs to have complex, technical and specific terms (e.g., "half-life" from Figure 7 and from Figure 10), together with complex or simple terms that may be misunderstood (e.g., "clear" from Figure 10), to have a different or specific meaning in the context in question compared to their day-to-day use outside of the area of knowledge.


The following can also be included: the names of products, services and processes of the organization; terms already having a preferred translation according to company directives or consolidated use in previously translated documents (the use of reference documents is vital in this step); names of government agencies, standards and regulations; and acronyms frequently used in the document.


Important: Remember that the inclusion of simple and day-to-day terms in glossaries, although potentially helpful in some aspects of standardization, can result in a glossary that is overly complex and hard to work with, creating rather than eliminating obstacles. Therefore, carefully evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of including each one.

It should be pointed out that, in addition to terms, the glossary can also contain expressions (groups of words forming a phrase) falling within these criteria.

     3. Paste the terms (or expressions) selected from the source language in Excel

Next, paste the terms or expressions chosen from the source language in the respective column (e.g., in the "Source" column) so that each one occupies a specific line. This can be done in combination with step 2, as the terms are identified. After finalizing this step, organize the list alphabetically to facilitate viewing.


Figure 11: example of the "Source" column with the chosen terms pasted and organized in alphabetical order.


      4. Identify the corresponding term in the target language

This step is crucial for the glossary's accuracy and quality. It ensures that the translation entered for the chosen term or expression is the most used in the context of the translation, matches the existing documentation of the company or product, is clear, precise and easily understood by the document's target audience and is grammatically correct.

In this step, it is crucial to consult reference documentation of the organization or specific product, the company's internal linguistic guidelines and technical or scientific literature available on the topic. We can also involve the organization's employees who are considered specialists on the subject in question and who can bring valuable insights on the most suitable translation, in the process.

       5. Enter terms in the target language in Excel

Next, enter the terms or expressions chosen in the target language in the respective column (e.g., in the "Target" column), so that each one occupies a specific line corresponding to the term in the source language.


Figure 12: example of "Target" column with target terms identified and entered.

      6. Identify the context of the occurrence of the term in question

This step consists of identifying the phrase or small excerpts of text in which the term or expression occurs, which may help considerably understand its meaning. To do so, you can search for the term in the source materials or other reference documents, then copy the contextual information of the term or expression of interest. Make sure you choose excerpts in which the term or expression has the desired meaning as previously entered in the glossary.


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Figure 13: example of identifying the context of the occurrence of the term "clear" or its variations (such as cleared) on a page of the original document.²

     7. Paste examples of the context of the term's occurrence in Excel

Next, paste contextual information in the respective column (e.g., in the "Context" column). Here, if necessary, one or more examples of context can be entered. However, make sure not to enter too much information since this can make the text confusing.

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Figure 14: example of the column "Context" adequately completed.

     8. Include additional information and remarks, if necessary

Finally, enter any other pertinent information in the last Excel column, such as valuable references on the term, definitions or explanations for any potentially doubtful points, etc.

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Figure 15: example of the column "Notes" properly completed for the entry "clear".

The glossary is now ready to be shared with translators, guaranteeing greater agility and quality in the current and future translation projects.


Note: remember always to keep the glossary up-to-date and to add any relevant new terms raised during the translation and revision process, thereby ensuring greater accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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