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How to Write a Glossary for your Research Paper

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Glossary for Research Terms

The glossary is a non-mandatory post-textual element, which can be inserted in the final year research project or any other academic work to facilitate the understanding of certain terms.

What is a glossary?

The word glossary comes from the Latin glossarium and means “collection of glosses.” Many scholars have opined that alongside theoretical foundations there is always an applied dimension of terminology and this reflects in the production of glossaries and other tools for organizing terminology. The glossary can be defined as a “repertoire of lexical units of a specialty with their respective definitions or other specifications about their senses.

Do you now know what a glossary is? Well, it is nothing more than a kind of specific “dictionary” aimed at explaining words and expressions that are not very well known, for the most varied reasons, such as being part of a foreign language, specific field of knowledge, regional expression, and so on. As a rule, the glossary makes up the initial chapter or the final chapter of a certain work, listing, in alphabetical order, the correct meanings and definitions of very peculiar words throughout the text.

The expressions and words that are present in the glossary are the most unusual, mainly because they signify technical elements or are more complex. In other words, they are wording whose knowledge occurs mostly in the circle and people used to certain areas. The current meanings of expressions or words that have already fallen out of use, but which were useful in defining certain concepts or situations in earlier times, also appear with expressive frequency in the glossary. In terms of clarification, to understand what a glossary is, we use its classification and its origins.

The term originates from the Latin glossarium, which means “collection of glosses” (glosses are equivalent to annotations within a text for clarification purposes). Although it is not a mandatory component of the research paper, its use is highly recommended, especially if your work talks about one or more topics that the members of the board do not have a completer and more effective domain. When you know what a glossary is and if you create one with quality, it prevents the occurrence of misinterpretations as much as possible, because as the word is contained and made explicit in the glossary, the reader will know it meaning in that context.

Glossary types

The glossary types are quite varied. In other words, they can exist in different forms, for use in the most varied areas. In literary works, glossaries are also useful to explain certain neologisms constructed by the author and that it would not be feasible to elucidate the meanings in the course of the text, as this would significantly impair the pace of reading. In certain academic or scientific works, we can find another type of glossary. This glossary example is understood as fundamental to make it easier to identify concepts and terms that help the reader to understand the meaning of the interpretation provided by the author when studying his work.

There are several types of a glossary. The main ones are:

Glossaries of literary works: Help to understand the author’s neologisms, without impairing reading.

Glossaries of academic papers: It is essential to explain technical terms and concepts to the reader.

Bilingual glossary: Presents the translation of the word in another language, as well as an explanation of the term in context.

Environmental glossary: Focused on words related to the environment area.

What is the difference between glossary and dictionary?

Many people confuse a dictionary with a glossary, but they are two items with differences between them. While in the dictionary the terminology is presented more broadly (with information on all meanings, phonetics, and etymology), in the glossary the intention is to explain the meaning of the expression according to the specific context. It is quite common for people to confuse a glossary with a dictionary. However, it is worth noting that, despite some similarities, there is a clear difference between glossary and dictionary.

As we have already said, the glossary works as a kind of small dictionary, in which the placement of sentences or more than one word that is endowed with a unified explanation is allowed.

Generally, glossaries have technical or specific terms in an area, the explanation of words that are not well known to the public or that are already quite old. They serve to understand the subject addressed. When both elements are more precisely understood, the difference between glossary and dictionary becomes even clearer.

A dictionary, in turn, constitutes a reference work, in which registered words or expressions of a certain language are found. It contains a series of linguistic information about each of these words, with their respective meaning, the class to which they belong, phonetics, etymology, and so on.

Taking all this into account, we can say that the difference between a glossary and a dictionary is that the glossary contains the meanings of words within a specific area and/or context, while the dictionary is a reference frame in which there is an explanation of all the characteristics and classifications of a word in the language in question.

A step-by-step guide on how to write a glossary in a research paper

Most referencing styles and institutions determine that the glossary should be organized in the form of a list, following alphabetical order. Each technical expression mentioned must be presented together with the respective definition. In the content of the work, the glossary usually comes after the bibliographic references and before the part of annexes.

Making a glossary for a research paper according to the referencing rules is very simple: you just need to list the technical expressions that are not so well known by most people and present the meanings. To facilitate your work, we have highlighted five steps to assemble this post-textual element:

Select the terms that need to be explained

After writing your work, read the entire content carefully. This is the perfect time to identify spelling and typing errors and to mark all the terms that deserve a place in the glossary.

One tip is to print the report and use a highlighter to make the markings. Those who prefer to continue in the digital environment can bet on the editor’s text mark feature. Google Docs has it, just as the Word.

The explanation for each term must be clear, objective, and direct. Another important point is to focus on a definition appropriate to the context of the work.

Respect the alphabetical order

To make life easier for the reader, the list of terms should be organized in alphabetical order. Some people group words into groups according to the initial letter (A through Z). This grouping idea can be interesting when there are many terms on the list.

At the top of the page, write the title GLOSSARY, using capital letters, size 12 and cantered. Apply bold to highlight and leave 1.5 lines. The typology used must be the same as the rest of the work, to create standardization.

List the main obscure terms that appear in your work, that is, that are unknown to the majority. In front of each word, place a brief and direct definition of meaning within the context of your search. It is interesting to leave the space for an entry between the words added to the glossary.

Regarding the formatting of the margins, nothing changes it remains 3 cm from the upper and left margin and 2 cm from the right and lower margin. The glossary enters the list of elements without a numerical code, as well as errata, acknowledgments, lists, references, appendices, annexes, and index.


Learning how to make a quality glossary requires a good deal of research and caution. Try to gather basic material that provides you with robust information. Get to know an example of a glossary so that you can have a reference point to build yours. It is always worth remembering that the glossary is just an “Appendix” that helps to sustain the work.

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