What Do You Put in a Glossary?

Office glossaries are goldmines for technical writers. Too often, when writing or editing documents, technical writers come across terms they just aren’t 100% sure about. So what can you do? Ask a subject matter expert to explain? Take an educated guess? If you’re lucky enough, the office has a glossary which identifies and defines office terms.

That’s all well and good, if the office has a glossary. And if it doesn’t? Write your own of course! But what goes into a glossary? Here’s a run down.

For the purpose of this article, “terms” refers to words, acronyms, abbreviations, etc.

Terms You Had to Learn

If you walked into the office and had no idea what a term meant, it belongs in the glossary. Why write it down if everyone in the office understands? Because at some point, another person will join the office, and they will have no idea what you’re talking about. Find a clear, effective, agreed-upon definition for these terms for consistency and clarity across the board.

Terms You Had to Relearn

Strangely enough, many offices use common terms in a very specific way. Words like “team” may refer to a specific group of people, or a ranking. This requires readers to see these common words, and connect them to the office definition first. By including these words in the glossary, technical writers can confirm which variation of the word is intended and whether it was used properly.

Terms Commonly Confused

However it happens, two terms can be so similar in look, sound, or meaning that people can’t help but confuse them. A glossary is the perfect place to call attention to these terms. Why are these terms confused? What makes them different? Next time you, or someone else, can’t think of which word to use, make sure the glossary can guide them.

As a technical writer, it’s your job to collect a knowledge base so that new team members can rely on authoritative documentation rather than hear-say. Create a glossary by learning office terms and developing clear definitions. This way, the next time someone needs to clarify what they’re writing or reading, they know where the find the answer.

About the Author
Greta Boller is a technical writer located in the Washington, D.C. area. For more information, please visit .

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