How to digitize your paper glossaries (by Josh Goldsmith)


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Do you have tons of paper notes and glossaries floating around after your interpreting assignments?

Perhaps you've jotted down key terms you want to remember, or a colleague has given you a photocopy of their precious word list.

Instead of keeping those paper glossaries in a drawer somewhere or throwing them out, wouldn't it be great to hang on to all that valuable knowledge?

In this blog post, I'll share tips to help you make the most of your paper glossaries.

Why you should digitize your paper glossaries

If you regularly work for the same clients or on the same subjects, going digital allows you to easily manage your carefully researched terms.

It also helps you prepare better for similar assignments, and can be a lifesaver if you get thrown into a meeting at the last minute.

Plus, going digital allows you to quickly search for a given term. Instead of having to look through page after page of handwritten or printed glossaries, you can find the term you need with just a few keyboard strokes.

Imagine hearing a term you know is in one of your glossaries, typing part of the word, and immediately getting results from a glossary you created years ago.

Or even better, your virtual boothmate monitors the meeting and checks it against your glossaries. Every time a relevant word pops up, your app prompts you with the term in real time.

Terminology management tools for interpreters can't import your paper notebooks, but they do work with digital formats like XLS or CSV. (Some even work with DOCX.)
Using digital glossaries means you can easily import and export your data however you see fit.

It's time to dust off and future-proof those handwritten or printed glossaries!

When to digitize your paper glossaries

It's tempting to put off digitizing your glossary or processing your notes to whenever you "have time." But let's face it: Something more urgent will usually take precedence.

I recommend digitizing your glossaries right after you finish an assignment, while everything is still fresh in your mind.

After an assignment, take a few minutes to go through your notes. Pick anything that might be helpful in future assignments, and add it to your terminology database or digital glossary.

Even better, do this during breaks between interpreting shifts or while your boothmate is interpreting.

Sometimes, however, it's difficult to carve out time right after an assignment. You add paper glossaries to your "later pile," and that's where they stay.

Trying to digitize a huge stack of paper notes all at once is overwhelming. Here's what I recommend instead.

First, go through all of your notes and start with the most important or valuable ones. Figure out what you need now or in the immediate future, and digitize that first. It might help to add labels (like post-it notes) so you know which topic or client you wrote those notes for.

When you have a related assignment, grab those well-labeled notes and start digitizing them.

You can also make a list of all the notes you want to digitize, pop the list into your to-do app, and slowly but surely cross them off the list as you plow through them.

To streamline the process, grab your cell phone and snap photos of your notes. Create an album on your phone to store these pictures, so you can find them easily when you're ready to start digitizing.

The best tools to digitize your paper glossaries

How you digitize glossaries will depend on whether they're handwritten or typed. In the first case, your handwriting is key.

If you have legible handwriting, you can scan your glossaries and run them through optical character recognition (OCR) software.

I recommend SwiftScan, an app available for both Android and iOS devices. It recognizes the edges of your document and allows you to quickly capture multiple pages. The paid upgrade offers helpful options for filing, synchronizing and sharing - plus OCR for text recognition.

Another great option is CamScanner, also available for Android and iOS. It can run OCR in multiple languages on the same page (great for those notes where you jot down words in several languages!), and allows you to seamlessly switch from your mobile device to a desktop version.

Alternatively, pick up a RocketBook, then digitize and file your notes in no time flat.

Another option is to use a flatbed scanner in your home office. Pair it with an OCR program like ABBYY Finereader PDF or an app like CamScanner, which allows you to easily import scanned PDFs or image files. (One word of caution: After you scan your notes, process them and add those terms to your glossary straightaway.)

If your handwriting looks like chicken scratch - like mine - digitizing your notes will take a bit more work. Type your terms into your terminology database, dictate them to your computer, or create a self-translating glossary in Google Sheets to streamline the process. (Of course, you'll have to check the results!)

You'll find in-depth video tutorials on each of these approaches in the mini-course Nora Díaz and I created: How to Digitize your Glossaries.

How to store your digital glossaries

Many of you probably keep your digital meeting notes and glossaries in dozens of folders scattered across your computer.

But what if you need to access those glossaries from the road? Get moved from one meeting to another at the last minute? Or simply can't remember which glossary a specific term is in? It can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

Once you've digitized your glossaries, devise an organized way to store them. If you regularly work with various devices (i.e. a home computer and a laptop), store your glossaries in the cloud for easy access.

Cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive also make sharing glossaries with colleagues easy. The same goes for dedicated terminology management tools for interpreters like InterpretBank or Interpreters' Help. And if you want to edit a glossary together, Google Sheets offers convenient sharing features, while Interpreters' Help offers best-in-market collaboration.
How to find the terms you need - fast!

With Word or Excel, you'll have to wade through multiple search hits to find a term.

Instead, get yourself a terminology tool designed for interpreters, like InterpretBank, Interpreters' Help or interplex.

These tools offer incremental search. With every character you type, the tool whittles down the list of hits from your glossary and dishes up the term you're looking for.

Interpreter-specific tools also offer case- and accent-insensitive search, which can be a huge time-saver when you're in the booth. There's no need to type accents or other diacritical markers, helping to reduce cognitive load during what's already a very demanding task.

And those dratted typos? Luckily enough, some tools even offer fuzzy search, which can find the right word in your glossary even when you don't spell them correctly.

Most of the leading terminology management tools for interpreters also work across all of your devices. You can start a glossary on your desktop computer at home, then pull it up on your laptop, tablet or smartphone from the meeting room.

No internet access? No problem. Most tools also offer offline access, so you can look up that term even if you're stuck in a place with no Wi-Fi. (And yes, that happens to me often.)

It's time to digitize your glossaries!

You've done the research and learned the terms.

You've jotted down new vocab during your meeting.

Perhaps a colleague has even handed you a paper glossary.

But reams of paper are of limited use.

Going digital will help you keep track of your carefully-researched terms, maintain terminological consistency across assignments, prepare under time pressure, and find the terms you need in the blink of an eye.

So what are you waiting for? Instead of losing all those precious terms, it's high time to digitize them!
— Jost Zetzsche, The 336th Tool Box Journal


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