A glossary is a section at the end of a written work that defines confusing, technical, or advanced words. You can think of a glossary as a mini-dictionary for words used in that work. Glossaries are commonly used in research papers and academic books to explain special words or jargon readers wouldn’t understand.
In this guide, we explain the basics of glossaries, including when you need them and how to write them. We’ll even share a glossary example to help you make your own.
What is a glossary in a book?
A glossary in a book (or paper or other written material) is a special section that provides definitions for complicated words. It is formatted like a dictionary, with the keywords organized alphabetically and their definitions written in plain language.
Unlike dictionaries, glossaries define only the words used in a work. A glossary comes at the end of a book or paper, so readers can find it easily when they need it while reading.
What is a glossary used for?
What does a glossary do? Some written works use a lot of uncommon words, especially academic works, such as research or thesis papers. As an aid to readers, these works sometimes provide a glossary to define the difficult words, so readers can look them up quickly without consulting a dictionary.
Furthermore, because glossaries include only the words that appear in a work, readers can look them up faster than in a dictionary, which has an entire language’s worth of words.
adjective: a word that modifies or describes a noun by naming an attribute.
adverb: a word that modifies or describes a verb, adjective, or another adverb.
apostrophe: a punctuation mark ( ‘ ) used to create the possessive form of a noun and to show certain letters are omitted in contractions.
Citing sources for a glossary
If you are writing a glossary, you do not need to cite your sources. Definitions are considered common knowledge—even if the words are uncommon—so no citations are necessary.
However, in formal writing, such as research papers or dissertations, you need to provide a citation if you’re quoting a glossary entry from another work. Likewise, if you’re using a specific or controversial definition from a certain glossary that’s different from other definitions, you need to cite your source.
The correct format for glossary citations varies depending on whether you’re using APA or MLA format. If you’re not sure of the formatting, use our free citation generator to automatically create the citation you need.
Glossary vs. index
Glossaries and indexes are sometimes mixed up because they both come at the end of a work and are organized alphabetically by keyword. Despite their similarities, though, glossaries and indexes serve two different purposes.
A glossary provides definitions for complex words. An index, however, is a tool for finding where in the work a certain topic is discussed. Instead of definitions, an index lists page numbers where readers can find the content they’re looking for.
Indexes are organized by topic; for example, if you’re writing a report on Mahatma Gandhi, and one of your sources is a book on the history of India, you can look for “Gandhi, Mahatma” in the index to find the pages that mention him. Unlike a glossary, indexes don’t give any information or details about a topic, just the places where it’s discussed in the work.
What is a glossary in a book?
A glossary is a section at the end of a written work that defines confusing, technical, or advanced words. You can think of glossaries as a mini-dictionary for words used in that work. Glossaries are commonly used in research papers and academic books to explain certain words readers wouldn’t understand.
What does a glossary do?
Academic and complicated written works often use advanced words readers might not be familiar with. When these difficult words are defined in a glossary at the end of a work, readers can look up the definitions quickly without consulting a dictionary.
What’s the difference between a glossary and an index?
Glossaries and indexes are sometimes mixed up because they both come at the end of a work and are organized alphabetically by keyword. A glossary provides definitions for complex words, whereas an index is a tool for finding where in the work a certain topic is discussed. Glossaries provide definitions, while indexes provide page numbers.