Translation Glossaries: What are they good for, and how are they created?



A translation glossary lists frequently used words (terms) in the source language and their counterparts in the target language. It may also contain information clarifying the context of the term's application and other pertinent information.

Before starting the translation job, the localization team should prepare a glossary so that structured and duly approved terminology is available for the translator to consult. This reduces the time spent doing terminological research and unnecessary rework upon delivery.

What is the relevance and impact of using glossaries for translation projects?

In technical and scientific texts from health sciences, specific terms are often not commonly used in other contexts or with different meanings. If not predefined and contextualized in a glossary, these terms will require careful, time-consuming research in specialized databases or clarification requests from the project client. The translation process production speed can slow down or even lessen the quality of the final translation product.

Preparing a list of key terms for the project or product is an essential tool for ensuring the use of appropriate terminology within the specific context of the desired application, together with standardized terminology in the final document, between different documents in the same project, or between other projects involving the same product line.

Furthermore, a glossary guarantees compliance with each company's terminology preferences and guidelines, reducing document validation time. Now how to get started?

How should the glossary terms be chosen? What information should be included? How should the glossary be structured clearly and concisely to facilitate translation?

We have created a practical guide detailing the steps in creating a glossary. See the overall flowchart of the process:

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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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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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Figura 8: exemplo de lista de termos selecionados (à direita) a partir da avaliação crítica da lista de candidatos exibida na Figura 7 e à esquerda nesta figura para efeitos comparativos.

  • Extração manual de termos para o glossário: realizada através da avaliação crítica global do texto original por alguém com conhecimento sobre o assunto/linha de produtos/requisitos da empresa, com o objetivo de identificar e extrair termos e expressões que possam ser relevantes para o glossário em construção, conforme os critérios pré-definidos.

    Consulte nas figuras a seguir o fluxograma deste processo, bem como o exemplo de uma lista de extração manual. Compare-a com a lista obtida com a extração automatizada exibida acima e note os diferentes termos que podem ser detetados a partir dos dois tipos de extração.

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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.

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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.

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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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