Use consistent terminology#

Use words as they are defined in a general dictionary, in an accepted industry dictionary or style guide, or for your particular project. Each word or phrase should have only one meaning, and should be used consistently throughout the documentation.

  • Don’t use the same word to describe two or more different concepts. For example, don’t use agent to refer to both a person and a process.

  • If a word has both a technical meaning and a general meaning, don’t use it to express both meanings. Instead, use a synonym for the general meaning. For example, use interface as a noun that means user interface. Instead of also using interface as a verb, use interact.

  • Don’t use different words to mean the same thing. Standardize on the use of one word for a particular object. Technical writing isn’t creative writing, and you shouldn’t be concerned that you will bore users with colorless prose. Clarity is the goal, so using a precise set of terms consistently is required. Following is a common example of multiple terms that refer to the same thing:

    • menu command (the preferred term)

    • menu item

    • menu option

  • Use a word as only one part of speech. Many words can be correctly used as a verb and as a noun or an adjective, such as display. However, using the same word as more than one part of speech in the same document can be confusing to users and translators, so avoid it when possible.

  • Avoid fabricated words. Examples of fabricated words are marketecture or edutainment. Most such words are specific to a single business culture and aren’t understood in other cultures.

  • Standardize words and spelling across a documentation set.

  • Don’t use terms with different meanings interchangeably. Some terms have similar but distinct meanings and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. For example:

    • environment, platform

    • version, release

    • panel, screen

    • window, dialog box

For guidelines about specific words, see Alphabetical list of terms.