The Professional Terminologist’s Profile

Those who are familiar with the translation industry will know that terminology work is fundamental for providing accurate and consistent translations. Who are terminologists and what is their role within an organisation? What are the tasks of a terminologist and what skills and knowledge should they have?

To answer to these questions, this article will focus on:

  • The multifaceted profile of the terminologist
  • The tasks performed by a professional terminologist
  • Key knowledge and skills needed to be a terminologist
  • Technical skills required to perform terminology work
  • Management and communication skills that a terminologist should have
  • A terminologist’s soft skills

The multifaceted profile of the terminologist


First, it is necessary to clarify who terminologists are and what their main tasks consist of. Terminologists are often linguists and they mainly research, define and organise terms. To carry out their work, they use terminology databases (or termbases) and digital corpora, together with other technologies.

Frequently, terminologists do not have a fixed role and can work in a variety of departments within their organisations. They can be found in translation or foreign languages units, in documentation or information departments, in technical writing sections and even in research and development teams. Sometimes, they work in the standardisation, patents or law departments. Terminologists can be also translators, localization experts, computational linguists, project managers or leaders of terminology teams.

Terminology work is an interdisciplinary activity carried out in a multilingual and highly specialised environment. It can concern various domains, including linguistics, informatics, cognitive science, documentation and knowledge management. In a multilingual specialised environment, it would be difficult to provide high quality linguistic services without terminology work being carried out by professional terminologists.

The work of professional terminologists allows communicating in specialised languages, translating specialised texts and transferring knowledge smoothly. It ensures the high quality and consistency of technical documentation and translations. It can reduce costs, save time, facilitate communication, improve the quality of texts and enhance the workflow in documentation procedures.

In the following sections of this article, the tasks, skills and knowledge that a professional terminologist should have will be described in more detail. Some more information on the terminologist’s profile and tasks can be found in the thesis synopsis The Role of Communication in the New Profile of the Terminologist, one of the theses published in our Theses & Papers page. German speakers can also consult the Professional Profile for terminologists issued by the Rat für Deutschsprachige Terminologie.

The tasks performed by a professional terminologist

The tasks that a terminologist is required to perform can be very diverse, depending on the needs of their organisation. Below is a summary of some typical tasks carried out by terminologists:

  • Terminological work, such as the creation of corpora for term extraction, the drafting of definitions, the creation of new terms, the definition and naming of new concepts.
  • Creation of mono- and multilingual terminology databases compliant with industry standards.
  • Management of terminology databases, including the updating, cleaning and merging of terminology entries.
  • Compilation and management of terminology collections such as glossaries, vocabularies, nomenclatures and term lists.
  • Consulting and support on terminology-related issues. In particular, terminologists can assess the terminology needs of an organisation and target their work to specific purposes and users.
  • Design and implementation of terminology management systems.
  • Collaboration with subject-matter experts in order to choose the appropriate terms to describe certain concepts.
  • Planning of terminology activity, i.e. organising the design and the implementation of an efficient terminology management workflow.
  • Acting as the leader of terminology teams.
  • Analysis and testing of terminology tools available on the market.
  • Preparation and delivery of trainings and seminars on how to build and maintain terminology resources, as there is a general lack of awareness on terminology work.
  • Liaising with collaborators through blogs, forums, wikis and social media channels.

Managing such an array of tasks requires expertise in linguistics, information technologies, communication sciences and management. A terminology professional would ideally possess theoretical knowledge and practical skills in all of these disciplines.

Key knowledge and skills needed to be a terminologist

  • Advanced knowledge of the principles of terminology, both theoretical and practical.
  • Mastery of terminological working methods (normative and descriptive terminology).
  • Capacity to create and collocate terminological resources for specific purposes or target groups.
  • Knowledge of linguistic principles.
  • Competence in field-specific languages.
  • Excellent language skills in their mother tongue.
  • Proficiency in at least one language in addition to the native language.
  • Ability to manage terminological collections.
  • Competences in knowledge management (KM).
  • Research skills and ability to identify essential information.
  • Linguistic creativity and highly developed feel for languages.

Technical skills required to perform terminology work

  • Proficiency in the use of terminology databases.
  • Mastery of tools for terminology management and of their interfaces with other applications.
  • Basic knowledge of information technology and documentation.
  • Familiarity with related pieces of software, such as terminology management systems (TMS), computer assisted translation (CAT) tools, Machine Translation (MT) software, term extraction tools, concordance and corpus analysis tools.
  • Competence in information theory and knowledge management, especially in ontologies, data fields, big data and semantic web.
  • Good general IT competence, especially in Microsoft Excel, which is often used in the creation of termbases.
  • Basic knowledge of mark-up language.
  • Mastery of different browsers and experience in the definition of research criteria (search operators and regular expressions).

Management and communication skills that a terminologist should have

  • Project management and planning capabilities.
  • Teamwork skills.
  • Capacity to make and implement strategic decisions in coordination with other units within an organization.
  • Knowledge-transfer and teaching skills, particularly didactic competencies related to terminology.
  • Ability to liaise with external experts.
  • Capacity to communicate effectively through social media channels, wikis, forums and blogs.
  • Competences related to netiquette, confidentiality and data safety.
  • Knowledge of basic legal aspects, terminology standards and copyright.

A terminologist’s soft skills

  • Abstract and critical thinking skills.
  • Systematic work approach.
  • Ability to work in intercultural teams.
  • Inter- and intracultural thinking.
  • Ability to recognise cultural differences.
  • Creativity and flexibility.
  • Ability to present reasoned and convincing arguments.
  • Negotiation skills.
  • Multitasking.

In conclusion, the tasks of a terminologist – whose work is pivotal not only for international organisations and any agency dealing with specialised knowledge but also for private companies with international contacts – can vary greatly from compiling terminological databases to terminology planning, consulting and training. Being a terminologist requires a specific set of skills and both theoretical and practical knowledge related to terminology, linguistics, technologies and knowledge transfer, among other disciplines. Terminologists should master terminology working methods and the latest terminology management tools, have excellent language skills (both in their mother tongue and in at least one foreign language), have the skills to critically evaluate terminology resources and be able to collaborate with language and specialised-fields experts.

There are plenty of Universities offering terminology training, especially as part of translation and interpreting courses. Some organisations and institutes offer online trainings and continuing education courses in terminology. Indeed, terminology work changes as technology progresses and staying on top of these technological advancements is an essential part of the job of a terminologist. In another article on our website, you can find information on where terminologists can work.