Note: This blog entry was originally written in Japanese in 2019 for our Japanese website. We used our machine translation platform Translation Designer to translate the entry into English and to post-edit the output for readers outside of Japan. The original Japanese entry can be found here.

You need a variety of tools such as style guides, translation memories, and instruction sheets to maintain the quality of your translations. Glossaries are indispensable among them. In this article, we will introduce what kind of role glossaries play in translation and the key points to actually create a glossary.

Let's talk about translation quality and glossaries

Evaluating translation quality is a very difficult task. As it is clear from the JTF (Japan Translation Federation) survey results, quality standards vary, and the requirements that we call "varieties," which depend on so-called preferences, are inseparable elements.

However, there are some errors in translation quality that can be judged objectively. Along with mistranslations and omissions, inconsistencies in expressions and terms have a clear negative impact on the quality of translations. In translations of all documents necessary for conducting corporate activities, such as software user interface and instruction manuals as well as contracts, patents, and press releases, if the expressions and terms are not consistent, it can be burdensome for readers. Even if the translation looks fluent at first glance, it can also sometimes mislead the readers.

Translation often involves multiple linguists working on it and partially updating or adding content. Keeping terms consistent requires more effort than expected. Although quality evaluation is difficult, when requesting translation work, you would want to take measures in advance to minimize the risk of errors. Therefore, glossaries are very important. Now, let's check what a glossary is like and the key points when creating it.

What is a glossary?

A glossary is a list of the meanings of words and phrases (terms) used in a specific field and how to use those terms. Many of the glossaries used in translation work are a bilingual list of the original text and translated texts with supplementary information on the side.

In a glossary for translation, of course, special terms such as industry-related terms, technical terms, and abbreviations are included. But also adding marketing copy and general terms that you want to write in a specific way will make it easier to create a sense of consistency in your translation. So how do you specifically create a glossary?

Key points for creating a glossary

Make it one term, one translation
Let's start with how to choose terms to be included in a glossary. First of all, the designation of a field is very important. In different fields, translated terms often have different notations, even if the original term is the same. Also, the notation might even change depending on the purpose of use of the document.

As a general rule, the terms in a glossary must be translated exactly as they are written. It is convenient for keeping the term notation consistent when there is only one translation for each term. Therefore, it is recommended to use applications such as Microsoft Office Excel to check there are no original terms that are duplicated. It's very easy to change order, sort, and detect duplicate terms.

Define "when" and "what case"
However, it's probably easy to imagine that there may be situations where you have to use multiple translations for a single term. For example, in software manuals for the financial industry, "default (as in value)," "default setting," and "debt default" are likely to appear as Japanese translations of the English term "default" depending on the situation. You have to decide on a solid rule as to how to specify the translation.

Therefore, a supplementary explanation is needed. You can call it anything, such as remarks, memo, or comments, but by adding explanations and examples of the original terms as additional information, "when" and "in what case" to use that translated term are defined.

Some people may think that when and in what case to use each translated term, such as "default" mentioned in the example, is trivial and need no definition. In selecting terminology when translating, the criteria are not clear unless you receive specific instructions from the client or translation company. As mentioned above, in translation, one document may be worked by multiple linguists, or already translated documents may be partially updated or changed with added information. In such a situation, if there is no specific instruction, there is a high possibility that inconsistency will occur in the adoption of translated terms.

Therefore, try to add supplementary explanations to your glossaries as much as possible. That way, you can minimize the inconsistency of the translated terms. It would be ideal for multiple people to have a common understanding across the time axis without explanation, but in that case, a glossary itself would be unnecessary in the first place.

Determine standard notation rules
If the field is clear and the purpose of use is specified, let's register more terms in the bilingual list. In some fields, industry groups may sell bilingual term lists or have them shared publicly. It's also a good idea to pick out terms that you think are important from the files that have already been translated.

However, one thing to keep in mind here is that if the standard notation rules for these terms are not established, the primary goal of keeping the notation consistent will not be achieved. For example, to write the Japanese term with or without a long note symbol in katakana notation. If you are not careful, the notation will be inconsistent immediately. Standard notation rules are usually specified in a style guide, so care must be taken to ensure that glossary terminology is consistent with the style guide.

The field and purpose of use are specified, and when to use them is clarified. Even so, if the notation rules are different when arranging each term, it cannot serve as a glossary.

Avoid registering verbs
So far, we've explained the key points of how to register terms, but now let's think about terms to avoid. The representative would be verbs. It is safer not to register verbs in a glossary. In the first place, verbs in original text is not always translated as a verb in the translated text. Also, if you limit the translations of verbs, the connection between words will be unnatural. (People would say that collocation is strange.) Specifying a notation that does not take this into consideration can have a significant adverse effect on translation quality. But if you still want to register verbs, carefully define when and in what cases they should be used.

Update regularly
Finally, it doesn't make sense to use glossaries if you don't keep them up-to-date. Decide and operate a clear management flow as to who will update at what timing. Many translation companies, including Kawamura, provide services to create and maintain glossaries on clients' behalf. It's also a good idea to consult with translation companies first..

MT and glossaries

Of course, glossaries are also important when using machine translation (MT). You can apply a glossary to an MT engine to apply some of the terms specified in the glossary in the generated translation. However, the application of glossaries to MT has not yet reached the perfect level and requires human judgment.


When translating a document, it is very important to keep the notation of terms consistent. A solid glossary increases the chances of having a clear, high-quality translation. It also helps keep documents consistent even in large-scale projects where multiple linguists work at the same time.

However, if you do not know how to create and utilize it properly, even if you create one with large-scale effort, it may be useless. We hope this article will help you create a good glossary that you can use as an asset in your future translation work.

Kawamura's translation service

Kawamura International not only provides translation services utilizing glossaries but can also create glossaries for your company.

We cover industries such as IT, software localization, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, finance, IR, legal affairs, tourism, manufacturing, and SAP-related documents. The most suited translators will be assigned according to your industry and specialty. We offer comprehensive solutions to all of your problems. Please feel free to contact us for translation requests or if you have any questions about translation services in general.