What is a Glossary and Why is it Important?

Glossaries hardly make for exciting reading. Very few people — if any — will read one from beginning to end. And yet glossaries are very helpful as a reference tool. Especially when the text is highly technical or specialized, a glossary can make a world of difference to the reader. They give readers the definitions of technical or specific terms so that the full document is fully readable. 

Enhancing Accessibility with Glossaries: A Guide for Readers

Terms that are unfamiliar to your readership are explained in a glossary. Readers can quickly go back and forth to check on terms and make sure they understand the text correctly. 

Glossaries thus make documents and texts more accessible and easier to follow. Readers don’t have knowledge gaps and can find word definitions in the glossary whenever they need them. 

Technical documents usually require a glossary at the end. Scientific, medical, engineering, and technical documents often come with a glossary of terms to clarify things and help readers. Financial institutions, too, sometimes require a glossary to explain financial terms that might be too technical for the average reader. 



Who Needs a Glossary?

Anyone writing about industry-specific topics should include a glossary at the end of the document, particularly if the text is expected to be read by non-familiar readers. If you want your text to be accessible, then you should consider defining field-specific terms in a glossary. 

Technical fields

Technical fields such as engineering, information technology, and science heavily rely on specific terms and definitions. Readers will greatly appreciate a glossary because it will explain unknown terms and help them grasp the topic. But even field-related professionals can benefit from a glossary, because sometimes terms are used in a company-specific way and a glossary helps readers understand the context and how the term is used under specific circumstances. 


In academia and the education industry, researchers and educators across various disciplines use glossaries to help students understand the specialized language of their studies.


In areas like finance and international trade, glossaries help bridge the language gap between professionals from different regions and backgrounds, thus promoting clearer communication. 

Also, glossaries are useful in industries like manufacturing and construction, where technical specifications and standards are important. They create a uniform definition of terms and procedures as well, which is perfect for training new employees.

What’s Included in the Definition of a Term?

So, what’s included in a glossary?

Alphabetical order

To help people find things quickly, glossaries are organized alphabetically. If two words begin with the same letter, they are categorized alphabetically according to the second letter. If the second letter is the same, they are categorized according to the third, and so on. 

For example, ‘customer’ and ‘customize’ are words with very similar beginnings, but ‘customer’ will come first because ‘e’ comes before ‘i’ in the alphabet. 

Term and definition

The glossary presents the term along with a clear and concise definition. It also explains the circumstances when a term is used. For example, ‘customer’ might have different definitions for different businesses so the definition should clearly define that. 


Sometimes businesses and organizations use synonyms of a term. A glossary will specify these. With the ‘customer’ example, a business might use the term ‘client’ interchangeably, so the glossary should explain that. 

Glossaries Make Documents More Accessible

Quick reference tool

Since a glossary is a quick reference tool, readers can quickly access the glossary and find the definition of a term that troubles them as they go through a document. 

Common ground

Employees, partners, and involved parties should have the same understanding of the terms. Businesses, organizations, and institutions should encourage all their people to be on the same page when it comes to terms and definitions. 

It makes you look good

A glossary can boost the credibility and professionalism of your work. It demonstrates thoroughness and attention to detail. It also shows care for people from diverse backgrounds and with varying knowledge levels. This can be particularly important in academic, technical, or professional documents, where you need to convey expertise and authority.

Good for training

If an organization runs training courses or needs to train new employees and shareholders, a glossary will come in handy by making sure that all participants have a shared understanding of these terms and can move forward with their learning and training. 

Independent understanding

Glossaries are self-directed: people can check them any time they want. Post a glossary online or have it consistently available to help people access it. This will save time and money for any business because knowledge is streamlined and there is no back-and-forth regarding unknown terms and definitions. Organizations are thus more productive. 

Good for SEO purposes

If you post your glossary online, you benefit from improved SEO. Glossaries are packed with industry-specific terms that can boost your online visibility. Search engines can index your content faster and higher, which is always great for any type of business, organization, or institution. 

Nobody reads glossaries but everybody checks them

Yes, nobody actually reads a glossary from beginning to end — but everybody checks them from time to time. Glossaries are reference tools that make life simpler and easier. They provide immediate support and definitions and help stakeholders in any organization gather a common understanding of the terms used. 

Specialized and technical fields often come to mind when there is talk of glossary. But even mainstream organizations and businesses often require a glossary to define terms and clarify how they are used within the organization. Brief, straightforward, and organized, glossaries explain concepts to make life clearer. 

Clarity Across the Board

Just like a dictionary,  a glossary provides clarity and meaning to commonly used terminology. Whether you’re a student, professional, or simply curious, having access to a comprehensive list of terms can greatly enhance your knowledge base. 

Remember, learning the definition of these terms is just the beginning; applying them in context through examples further solidifies your understanding. Whether you’re reading a book, watching a video, browsing a blog, or engaging in any other form of learning, have a handy glossary at your disposal to enrich your experience. Keep exploring, keep learning, and let words be your guide!

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a glossary?

A glossary is like a dictionary, only more focused. It provides definitions and explanations for a collection of words or terms commonly used within a specific field or subject area.

How can I use a glossary effectively?

You can use a glossary as a guide to learn the meaning of commonly used terms within a particular context. Refer to it whenever you encounter unfamiliar words in your readings, videos, blogs, or any other form of content.

Are examples provided in a glossary?

Yes, examples are often included in a glossary to illustrate how the terms are used in context. This makes it easier for users to understand their meaning and application.

Can I find glossaries in books?

Yes, many books — especially textbooks and reference materials — include glossaries at the end to assist readers in understanding the terms used within the text.

Are glossaries limited to text-based resources?

No, glossaries can also be found in various multimedia resources such as videos. They typically appear as on-screen annotations or accompanying documents, providing definitions for terms mentioned in the video content.

How does a glossary differ from a regular dictionary?

While both glossaries and dictionaries provide definitions of words, a glossary is more specialized, focuses on a specific subject area or field, and often includes terms commonly used within that domain.

Can I contribute to a glossary?

In some cases, yes. Online glossaries or collaborative projects sometimes allow users to suggest new terms or provide feedback on existing entries to improve the overall resource.


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