How to create a glossary for document translations

How to create a glossary for document translations

Professional services, such as accounting and medicine, require collaboration with the client.  Whether it’s tax information, patient records, or a consultation, the client has a role to play.  Translations, as a professional service, is no different. On the other hand, creating a glossary is a straight-forward activity, but in our experience, the glossary a client creates always improves when they incorporate input from our team.  A glossary that incorporates both knowledge of the client as well as knowledge of the translation process offers maximum value to all parties involved.  

Just as there is more than one way to say the same thing in English, there is more than one way to say the same thing in other languages.  A glossary is one of the most valuable tools a language service provider (LSP) can use to align their word choice with the preferences of a client.  It allows for a high degree of personalization of a translation that can match corporate branding, meet legal compliance or nearly any other restrictions.  Below are the sections of the article:

    1. Collaborate with an LSP
    2. Add Proper nouns
    3. Add Non-translatables
    4. Add Corporate terms
    5. Add Key words or phrases

Collaborating with an LSP reduces the total amount of work you will need to do. Key words, proper nouns, non-translatables and corporate terms are only a starting point. I wrote a separate article dedicated to explaining the importance of term consistency and when creating a glossary is important.    

Collaborate with an LSP

You don’t need to know a foreign language to create a glossary – although it helps.  The purpose of the glossary is to meet your needs, so the more input you give, the more satisfied you will be with it.  To minimize effort, have the LSP manage the creation of the glossary. They will certainly reach out to you for input on terms, but by making them the project manager of the project, all the administrative overhead is on their shoulders and all you have to do is follow their instructions on your timeline.  It also ensures that the glossary is functional and effective for them. The most likely outcome is that the LSP will create the glossary directly in the term base format, which saves on the creation of it later.  

Your contribution can be source and/or target terms.  The more you contribute, the better. A good example of collaboration is on sales material.  Some clients have distributors abroad that will be using the translated content and will want to participate in creating the glossary.  Other experts in the company will feel the need to contribute for their own sake. The more participation the better, as long as one person has a final say on each term.  The LSP will have very specific instructions on how to collaborate to avoid excessive work and produce an effective and functional final product.  

Add Proper nouns

Proper nouns are names of people, places, or organizations and usually start with a capital letter.  If you have source files, go through and pick out any names that are capitalized. Good examples are product names.

This is your opportunity to decide how you want your company name, product names, etc. translated in another language.  Even if you don’t know another language, adding these terms to the glossary ensures that at the very least they will be consistently spelled in other languages.  

Add Non-translatables

For any proper nouns that you did not want translated, this is the category for you.  Non-translatables are terms that are not planned to be translated, and can include product names, numbers,  alphanumeric terms, codes, punctuation (and any other non-textual elements), acronyms, addresses, email addresses, URLs, phone numbers, dates, times, measurement items or anything that precedes a copyright or trademark symbol.  A fast way to find many of these is by looking for numbers, common patterns (“@”, “http”, “2019”, etc.), or the actual copyright or trademark symbols.  

It might seem tedious, but the more of these you enter the faster the translation will be and the cheaper it will cost because pre-translated content does not count towards the cost of the translation (at least at BURG Translations).  

Add Corporate terms

Corporate terms are not necessarily proper nouns, but rather terms that your organization uses that might not be typical in the industry or outside of your organization in general.  These kinds of terms might be tough to catch, but it’s better to be conservative and add any that you know of or suspect.  

Add Key words or phrases

I’m using this category as a catch-all category.  Any terms you care about, are important to you, highly repetitive and that you know have a wide variety of synonyms in other languages would go here.  Also, slogans, marketing phrases, and strings of text can be added (there is a gray area in whether these things belong here or in the translation memory).  This is particularly relevant for marketing material or documents aimed at a particular reading level.  A good example is the word “medicine”. Medicine can also be written as “medication”, “drug”, “pill”, “therapy” etc. in other languages.  Each of these terms have a different connotation, so add it to the list and get agreement on what preferred term you want in other languages.  


A glossary is a list of terms you care about, either because their meaning is important and needs to be particularly conveyed, or because it’s a highly repetitive non-translatable term that isn’t worth the cost of (not) translating.  Tell your LSP partner that you want a glossary applied on every relevant file and to tell you what they need to see from you in order for them to implement it properly. If you have people in your organization who will depend on the quality of the translation, bring them into the process so that nobody is surprised later.  Be generous in your selection. The more terms you select, the more you save.  

If you’d like to learn more about how BURG Translations helps you ensure high-quality translations, contact us todaybest-practices-for-translation-and-desktop-publishing