How to Create a Glossary in Word image

In this blog post, I’ll teach you two great ways to create a glossary for your book using Microsoft Word.

When done correctly, these alphabetized lists of defined terms can be very useful tools for readers—but there’s more to creating a good glossary than you might imagine.

Glossaries can be helpful in a range of nonfiction genres, from scientific reference books to history books, cookbooks, and even memoirs. You might consider including a glossary if you’re using a lot of terms that your target audience wouldn’t be familiar with, whether because you’re writing a memoir about your experience in a foreign country or because you’re delving into the ways in which pharmaceuticals interact with our brains.

If your book is in need of a glossary, I’ll show you the best practices for creating one—and how to make a glossary in Microsoft Word.

Does Your Book Need a Glossary?

To determine if you even need to include a glossary, ask yourself these questions:

Who are your readers?

Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. It doesn’t matter whether your book is meant to be read by the general public or by scholars of a particular discipline—if there would be a significant number of terms your readers wouldn’t understand, a glossary might be the way to go.

Are there enough specialized terms to warrant a glossary?

If you’re using one or two foreign words that are well defined in the context of the main copy, or if there are a handful of scientific words that are only mentioned once and aren’t essential to understanding the rest of the book, you probably don’t need a whole glossary.

On the other hand, if you’re using a lot of topic-specific jargon, foreign words, or technical terms that would require a lot of space to define in the main text, that appear many times throughout the book, or that are important for comprehension of your concept, a glossary will be helpful to your readers.

Writing Glossary Definitions

The most important rule of writing definitions for your glossary terms: don’t use technical words to define a term.

For example, if you want to include the term “tandoori chicken” in your glossary, a definition that reads, “chicken that is cooked in a tandoor” is unlikely to help a reader understand the term any better.

Although definitions should be relatively brief, you do want to elaborate enough so that the average reader will benefit from the information without having to look up additional terms. With this in mind, a better definition of tandoori chicken would be, “An Indian-style chicken dish that is cooked in a clay charcoal oven known as a tandoor.”

Some glossary definitions go even further and give a brief summary of the history or context of the term. You’ll have to use your judgment as to how much detail is necessary.

Keep in mind that there’s no need for your definitions to have a robotic, dictionary-like tone; the voice of your glossary should match the rest of your book.

Creating a Glossary in Word

Word doesn’t have a dedicated glossary feature, but it does have a couple of built-in tools that you can use to help you create your glossary.

Option 1: The Sort Tool

The first option is to use the sort tool. This process is fairly manual, but not difficult.

For this method, it’s easiest to use a split screen view. To do this, go to the View tab, then, under the Arrange section, click on Split. You can then adjust the size of the panes to your preference.

In the top window, scroll to the top of your manuscript. In the lower window, scroll to wherever you’d like your glossary to go. Give your glossary a header.

Using the top pane, carefully comb through your copy to identify a term that should be part of your glossary. When you find one, copy it and paste it under your glossary header in the lower pane. (Copying and pasting rather than re-typing helps cut down on typos.) Make sure to give each term its own line.

You can choose whether to gather all of your glossary terms first and then write all the definitions at once, or to write definitions as you go.

Don’t worry about alphabetizing yet—we’ll come back to it at the end.

Continue pasting terms into your glossary until you have reached the end of your manuscript.

When you have added all of your terms, you can remove the split from your window by going back to the Arrange tab and clicking on Remove Split.

Highlight the whole list of terms (don’t include the header), and, under the Home tab, click on Sort.

This will bring up a dialog box. Under sort by, select paragraphs. Under type, select text. Then, select ascending. Click OK, and your list will be sorted alphabetically (with numerals first).

Look through your glossary, remove any duplicates, and format your list however you like (by bolding the terms, for example).

Option 2: Table of Authorities

The second option for creating a glossary is to use the Table of Authorities function. This feature is usually used to create lists of citations with page references for legal briefs, but, with a few manual modifications, can be used to make a regular glossary.

Starting at the very beginning of your manuscript, identify a term you’d like to add to your glossary. Highlight the term, go to the References tab, and, under the Table of Authorities section, click on Mark Citation.

This will bring up a dialog box. In the selected text section, add a colon after your glossary term and then type in your full definition. You don’t need to worry about any of the other sections in this dialog. Click mark.

You will see a bracketed TA notation appear in the text. Inside the quotes, you will see your glossary entry. You can edit this text anytime, including formatting (such as bolding your glossary terms). Whatever is in quotes is what will appear in your finished glossary.

Once you have marked all your glossary terms, click where you would like to place your glossary. Under the Table of Authorities section, click on Insert Table of Authorities.

In the dialog box, select your preferred format. Under category, select all. Make sure that the box next to keep original formatting is checked to preserve any formatting changes you made to your entries. Finally, under tab leader, select (none). Hit OK, and your glossary will appear in your document (albeit with page numbers—more on that in a moment).

To make changes to your glossary entries, locate the appropriate TA notation and update the text in quotes. Then, click anywhere in the glossary and, under the Table of Authorities section, click Update Table of Authorities.

The downside of this method is the page numbers that inevitably appear at the end of each entry. The only way to get rid of them, unfortunately, is to manually delete each one. But beware: if you make any additional changes to the TA notations and then update your Table of Authorities to implement those changes, the numbers will reappear—so make absolutely sure that your glossary is completely done before you delete the page numbers.

Getting Help with Your Glossary

In all likelihood, you’re an expert on the topic you’re writing about, so it may be difficult for you to objectively identify terms that might be good candidates for a glossary. Having a friend or colleague look over your manuscript can help; their fresh perspective and distance will more accurately reflect the thoughts of your readers.

And while there is no “easy” way to create a glossary in Word, your readers will be grateful you took the time to create this useful reference tool for them.

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Melissa Drumm

Melissa Drumm is an editor at TCK Publishing. As a lifelong book lover, she is passionate about helping authors make their work the best it can be. You can find some of her writing here on the TCK blog, and learn more about her other projects at melissadrumm.com. When she's not writing, editing, or reading, you'll usually find her in the kitchen, baking.

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