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In your experience, which types of terms are the most challenging to you or your customers? Is there a difference between long and short terms?

In a nutshell, a “term” is a word with a “special” meaning, be it technical, scientific, market-specific, political, and so on.

A term can have many forms. There are single word terms (cookie, volume and technology) and those made up of multiple words (information technology, mad cow disease, mid-ocean ridge basalt). Terms can also be acronyms (SARS, GILT, WHO), abbreviations (detox center, Euro), appellations (name of a single entity such as United Nations, Group of Seven), or even a symbol (©, €, ).

Single word terms can often be ambiguous without a larger context to define them. Think about the term volume which can have many different meanings, for example:

    (1) the amount of something;

    (2) the loudness of a sound from a radio, CD player, etc.;

    (3) a book or publication;

    (4) a unit of physical media which contains computer data (e.g. a disk or CD-ROM).

Now, compare volume to mid-ocean ridge basalt. If you wanted to find out more information about the former, you would first have to decide which type of volume you were looking at. For the latter, the term itself contains enough information  to give you an idea of the subject area to which it belongs.

I am not making the case for long and convoluted terms, merely observing how a multi-word term may carry more information than the sum of its parts. The trick is to come up with the shortest possible expression that can represent your concept. You need not look any further than your phone to see how this works with :smile: , LOL and the plethora of shorthand that has developed since texting became such a prominent part of our lives.

However, business and technology cannot thrive on smileys alone. An analysis of technical content carried out by a software company in 2007 revealed that 75% of technical terms used in English user manuals and other content consisted of 2 or more words. Single-word terms only made up 25% of terminology. The need for clarity in technical content seems to outweigh the need for brevity.

I am curious to hear which of these types of terms you find most challenging? When interacting with colleagues and customers, do you find yourself elaborating on the short terms or trying to break down the meaning of the longer terms? Or is it the acronyms that trip you up?

I am looking for some real-life examples of where terminology (short or long) acted as either a help or a hurdle in communication.