What is a Glossary in a Book?

glossaryContinuing with our series on back matter, today’s blog is all about the glossary. Sometimes called the idioticon, vocabulary, or clavis, the glossary is essentially a book’s personal dictionary. Utilizing one in your book is a great way to define, list, and expand upon unfamiliar, made up, or intricate terms used in the book.

The glossary is found in the back matter of the book. The back matter (which comes after the story; the front matter comes before) also includes such sections as the epilogue, afterword, and appendix.

The word “glossary” comes from the Greek “glossarion,” with its root being “glossa,” meaning “obsolete or foreign word.” Therefore, it is a collection of obsolete or foreign words defined.

If a book includes rare, unfamiliar, specialized, or made up words or terms, the glossary serves as a dictionary for the reader to reference throughout their reading of the book. (Note: this section should only contain definitions for specific terms in the book. It does not function as an ordinary dictionary.)

Glossaries are included to help enhance the reader’s knowledge of a certain subject, as they provide a neat and orderly list of definitions and translations (if applicable).

Book Glossary Examples

The most common place to find a glossary is in a textbook. Pick any textbook off a shelf, flip to the back pages, and you’re sure to find a list of subjects discussed in the book, their definitions, and the page numbers where they’re located. Foreign language textbooks definitely have them, their back pages filled with translations for special vocabulary words, verb conjugations, and common phrases.

Textbooks aren’t the only example of books that use glossaries, however. Plenty of nonfiction books use them, whether they’re historical books, cultural critiques, memoirs, or scientific research.

Fantasy or science fiction books, too, can use a glossary. If a fantasy novel includes a made up language, a plethora of cities and places with odd names, or a complex and rich history, the author may opt to include a glossary to define words, places, or “historical” events that are brought up in the book.

Including a Glossary Page in Your Self-Published Book

If you feel that the topic or the complexity of your book calls for a glossary of terms, then by all means, include one! Adding this section to the back matter of your book is a great way to assist your readers, educate them, and provide transparency.

When creating your glossary, be sure it’s easily found, neat, organized, and understandable. Your readers should be able to simply flip to the back pages of the book and find it without a problem. It should be a page that they go back to again and again with ease during their reading of the book.

The glossary should also be neat and organized. Don’t clutter it: you don’t need to include a definition for every single word used in the book. Pick the words that would be unfamiliar to the layman and provide their definitions. Glossaries are normally organized in alphabetical order.

Your glossary should also be easily understood. The reader should be able to scan the list, find the word they’re looking for, and learn what it means. If the glossary leaves the reader more confused, you have a problem. Define and explain the words, terms, or phrases as simply and transparently as possible.

Hopefully this blog clarifies exactly what a glossary is, when it should be included in a book, and how it should look in your self-published book.


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