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United Nations terminologists keep abreast of terminology developments in their assigned language in the fields of activity of United Nations bodies. They produce up-to-date standardized terminology for use in the United Nations, carry out linguistic research and prepare electronic terminology records on specialized topics of interest to the United Nations.

Terminologists systematically sift through United Nations documents and other reliable sources for new terms, which they research and enter into the multilingual database UNTERM. Terminologists are responsible for the relevance and accuracy of such data. They have to verify database entries against authoritative sources and consult with in-house specialists from substantive departments, language professionals and outside technical experts, as well as specialized websites. Normally, terminology work includes the following steps: identifying the documentation relevant to the topic, researching the concepts, extracting terms, crafting definitions and preparing the other background information provided in UNTERM terminology records. Similar procedures are followed in order to update existing entries. Terminologists have to take care to make their texts politically neutral. They must identify and extract substantive information only, shedding self-serving statements, ephemeral or marginal data, and political bias.

Usually source information is provided for each term and its synonyms, as well as for every element contributing to the record. This helps terminologists and their colleagues in the other language services to do further research and evaluate the reliability of the record’s elements.

Whether creating an entry in a multilingual terminology database or providing other translation-support services, such as referencing, terminologists create hypertext links to the texts of major documents, if possible in all six languages, when these are available on the Internet at reputable and durable websites. References to any official United Nations document that first triggered the creation of a record in the terminology database, for example, include the symbol of the document, as well as the link to the electronic version whenever it is available in the Official Document System (ODS).

Terminologists are typically assisted by and supervise the work of terminology assistants who do much of the basic term extraction, research and hyper-linking.

  • Challenges of being a UN terminologist: Handling a large volume and wide range of documents, information, terms and concepts day after day, and needing to prepare and update entries and create and revise definitions rapidly and efficiently. Knowing which sources to consult or resources to use, mastering United Nations terminology and usage.
  • Rewards of being a UN terminologist: Getting to daily work with words and their definitions, and having a front seat to view both the evolution of language and of the United Nations. Getting to work daily with a multilingual, multicultural team.

Meet a UN Terminologist

  • Excellent writing skills in their main language.
  • Knowledge of how to craft a good dictionary definition.
  • Strong analytical skills; an ability to evaluate information with a certain rapidity and accuracy.
  • A good grasp of terminological and reference research techniques, as well as the ability to use documentary and information sources and perform complex research tasks.
  • In-depth knowledge of terminology used in the United Nations and related methodology.
  • High level of versatility, judgement and discretion.
  • Ability to meet tight deadlines and maintain required productivity without compromising quality.
  • Ability to work collaboratively and willingness to learn from others.
  • Ability to work effectively with people of different national, linguistic and cultural backgrounds, with sensitivity and respect for diversity.
  • Persistence when faced with difficult problems or challenges.

United Nations terminologists must:

  • In most cases, have passed the United Nations competitive examination for translators, verbatim reporters or editors in the relevant language
  • Hold a first-level degree from a university or an institution of equivalent status, normally one at which the language of instruction is their main language
  • Have excellent documented knowledge of at least two other official languages of the United Nations
  • In some cases, have a minimum of five years' experience as a translator or terminologist, including at least three years as a translator within the United Nations

The requirement of a third language may be waived in the case of candidates who possess relevant expertise.