LexTips: Defining Words in a Glossary

Posted on: December 28, 2009

In a large document, such as a user manual, remember that your readers can access the Glossary at any time to check on the meaning of a word they have encountered in the text.

Tailor the contents of the Glossary to your audience as regards which words you define and the technical level of their definitions.

When you define a word, do not use the word itself in the definition. For example:

Adumbrate. Riots and other forms of social unrest adumbrate a revolution.

Instead, use synonyms to define the word, so the reader can easily learn its meaning. For example:

Adumbrate. Riots and other forms of social unrest foreshadow a revolution.

Note that other synonyms for adumbrate might include prefigure, predict, suggest, indicate, point to, foresee, and symbolize. The synonym you choose must, of course, be appropriate for the context.

Consult a dictionary and a thesaurus to find synonyms. A good dictionary (especially an unabridged version) or a usage guide should also offer some help on correct usage.  Elizabeth Lexleigh  The Write Ideas


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