While writing my book, I have noticed that not a lot of people, that read my draft understand half of the things I'm talking about. So I added a glossary at the end that they could reference via a link directly there.

I do tons of research for this book, many of the things I have included into it involve Latin words, scientific names, and many other complicated words that no normal person would know off the top of their head.

screenshot of glossary

And I noticed, that as I add to the list, I retain more and more information about what I'm writing, so I don't have to keep looking the same things up all the time.

My question is: will people be more willing to read my work if I clarify things using this glossary?

  • Please note: "with its large legs," no apostrophe. :) Nov 28, 2018 at 20:39
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    "old timey funstuffs" isn't a proper glossary entry; saying it is "slang" does not tell us what it means. Is it board games? A deck of cards? Sex toys? Drugs? What makes it "old timey" and what makes it "fun stuff"?
    – Amadeus
    Nov 28, 2018 at 21:23
  • So....I need to explain it more? Nov 28, 2018 at 21:27
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    I mean you don't tell us what it is referring to. A glossary should translate, this entry does not. If whatever it refers to is evident by the context of where it is used. e.g. the exposition makes it clear a room is full of old arcade video games, or full of old sporting equipment, and Haku then calls it "funstuffs", then you don't need a glossary entry. If we haven't seen that and then some dialogue is "Dude, the room was full of old-timey funstuffs!" -- "Cool! Did they work?" Then you DO need a glossary entry, because the characters don't explain what they are discussing.
    – Amadeus
    Nov 28, 2018 at 22:35
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    If a "Dryadalum" is simply an elf, why not write it is as such? If it means something more specific instead, then the glossary entry seems incomplete. Ditto for the other rather short entries.
    – dkaeae
    Nov 29, 2018 at 9:05

4 Answers 4


If you've ever studied a foreign language, you'd know how annoying it is to go check words in a dictionary; it breaks the flow of your reading, breaks the immersion, and sends you off to perform a "chore". A glossary is no different from a real dictionary in this regard - if your readers have to go search for a word, it breaks their flow, breaks their enjoyment of the book.

What you're writing should thus stand on its own right, no glossary needed. If you're introducing some made-up or very rare terms, they should be understood from context, or described / explained within the text - whatever better suits each particular case. (Consider, for example, how Tolkien explains what hobbits are, and lets you understand from context everything you need to know about orcs.)

One thing you should beware of is the trope called Calling a Rabbit a "Smeerp". That's when there's no real good reason to use an obscure term for something that has an English word. Your 'dryadalum', 'stella', 'inlustris', 'solis' and 'morbus' come to mind. Do you have a really good reason not to use 'elf', 'star' 'starlight' etc. instead? Remember also this xkcd:

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  • This is more than a little discouraging. Nov 28, 2018 at 20:59
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    This is my favorite answer and what my answer would be (with a better cartoon). @Aspen It shouldn't be discouraging, it is just the advice you need to produce better writing. Readers will only let a limited amount of "not understanding" build up before they quit, and most of them won't bother to read a glossary. They are reading for entertainment, not to be educated, and too many of these weird words if unexplained by the text will stop the fun. So will having to refer to the glossary! Your #1 job is to entertain the reader, this suggestion helps you do that better.
    – Amadeus
    Nov 28, 2018 at 22:42
  • I meant Galastel found a great cartoon. Not that mine would be better.
    – Amadeus
    Nov 28, 2018 at 22:50
  • @Amadeus as I said before: I like your point of view. But as a reader, I do love it when a fictional book has a glossary, because I feel like the author was really excited about what they were inventing and wanted to share their thoughts and meanings to everyone else. It's good to understand what's going on Nov 29, 2018 at 16:37
  • @AspentheArtistandAuthor A glossary is fine, but the new words should be used sparingly, and most importantly they should carry meaning. In your example what does 'solis' say that 'sun' doesn't?
    – tylisirn
    Dec 6, 2019 at 0:05

Ideally the glossary should not be necessary - try to write in such a way that on the one hand, those who don't already have the intuitive understanding from the words themselves will be able to glean it from the context, but on the other hand, don't browbeat your audience.

It boils down to which audience you are writing for. Isaac Asimov and Michael Moorcock wrote to a general common denominator of reasonably educated average folk. Their works are very popular even though discussing esoteric matters because it's accessible. Still, if you read the opening pages of "Jewel in the Skull" it's horribly tired, trite, and overly tropish by modern standards.

I say the only reason not to include a glossary is if your editor/publisher/agent say it will market better without it, but try not to rely on people actually reading it. Some pore over the appendices in LotR with glee, some will never crack those pages. YMMV.

  • My audience is young adults, teenagers, and action lovers. Tell me @Paul Hodges, without reading the descriptions of most of those words, did you know what they meant? Nov 28, 2018 at 19:19
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    Yes, but I'm a well-read and college educate geek, who happens to have a degree in Classical Studies with quite a few hours of Latin in my program, and years of sci-fi/fantasy books by the stack, lol Nov 28, 2018 at 19:22
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    Totally my point. Unless someone with a stake says to take it out, put it in. Even if it doesn't end up in the final copy it likely helps you while writing. Nov 28, 2018 at 19:36
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    I'm a middle-aged, well-read, and college educated geek and I knew half the words. I can also tell you that most are totally unnecessary. Things like the galaxy need to be explained in the text.
    – Cyn
    Nov 28, 2018 at 20:00
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    If it's hard for you, consider how much harder for the reader. Teens are not known for diligence and patience. Nov 28, 2018 at 20:38

A Glossary Is not a Substitute for Clear Writing

If you were writing a nonfiction book where precise vocabulary was required, I'd say, yes, include a glossary!

If you were writing a very detailed fiction book with a lot of references to words used in a particular culture, language, religion, or historical period, I'd say, yes, include a glossary, but also make sure 90% of the words are obvious from context or unnecessary to know the exact meaning of.

In your case, you're writing a young adult novel (teenagers are the group for young adult books, though the readers can also include college-age) and one that isn't technical or historical with a large amount of necessary obscure vocabulary.

Every single one of your examples is something that most people will know (is there anyone over the age of 12 who doesn't know what a temple is?), something that will be obvious in context if you write it well, or something that can be explained at the time in the text. Some of the words are simply unnecessary.

Do you need a glossary? YES!! For yourself. You say that it's helping you as you write.

Should you publish the glossary with the book? Probably not.

Will anyone who put the book down suddenly decide to read it because, hey, it has a glossary! Hell no. Not a single one.

  • Personally, that hit me hard. I like your point of view. But as a reader, I do love it when a fictional book has a glossary, because I feel like the author was really excited about what they were inventing and wanted to share their thoughts and meanings to everyone else. It's good to understand what's going on. Nov 28, 2018 at 20:44
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    My intention was not to be mean to you, and I hope you didn't take it that way. I am a fan of glossaries in some cases. The Rashi's Daughters trilogy is a fiction example that was just crying out for a glossary. I had to look up some terms elsewhere. So, write your glossary, print it out, and tape it to the wall next to your computer (in addition to a digital copy on the computer). But write the book as if you're not allowed to have a glossary. Decide later what to do about publishing.
    – Cyn
    Nov 28, 2018 at 21:18

My new novel will probably have a glossary because of necessity it will have Arabic Norse and archaic English words though not many. All should be roughly clear from context but the glossary is.tger for those who want to double check. Eg. Rujan of the ship. Rujan ,,, captain. Ran with her screaming child to the maristan. Maristan ,,,, hospital.

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