You Don’t Know Jack: The Case for Controlled Vocabulary

The Rockley Bulletin features a great article on the importance of using controlled vocabularies, particularly for documentation. The article cites a customer support call in which the word “jack” is cause for confusion on both ends of the line.

The challenge of controlling your company’s vocabulary is in first deciding who actually controls this vocabulary. Tech writers may have one way of referring to something while the marketing folks may opt for something entirely different. Ideally, you let the user decide, through extensive interviews and testing (there are a number of consultants who have booming businesses doing just that). And you need to be flexible, particularly when you target different cultures. Even two cultures that use the same language may use different terms for the same thing (i.e., cellular phone vs. mobile).

Despite the many challenges, it is very, very hard to argue against the many benefits of standardizing a vocabulary.

Says, the article:

“Doing so will not only standardize the content, it will standardize content management in general, create efficiency, and further increase the many benefits content management already offers. Reusability is the key word here, which applies both to the English content, as well as to the translations, which can decrease the content up to 30% AND save translation cost up to 40% per language! Cheaper translations are one aspect, but avoiding costs as a result of clear and unambiguous communication to our customers can be tremendous, let alone the fact that our customers simply understand what they are reading, which will be a further enhancement to your product.”

Looking ahead, I believe we’ll see more competitors work together to standardize terminology industry-wide. This will open the door to the sharing of translation memories, something that we will hear more about in the months and years ahead.

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.