Glossary, Footnotes & Appendix in Technical Documents

Glossary, Footnotes & Appendix in Technical Documents
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  • 0:01 End Matter
  • 1:18 Glossaries
  • 2:54 Footnotes
  • 4:43 Appendices
  • 5:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

Often, a technical writer will need to provide additional information to the reader that doesn't fit smoothly into the main text of the document. This video explains how that extra information can be included as part of a glossary, footnote, or appendix.

End Matter

I think I have ADD. Although it's not officially diagnosed, I find that if I start talking about one topic, like dogs, by the time I finish my train of thought, I'm talking about strawberries. The point is that if I start telling a story, I feel like I have to explain additional information to help the person really understand what I'm talking about. And since I'm giving these explanations verbally, I don't have a way to indicate that some of my thoughts are just additional information.

But in business, these side thoughts can be distracting to the reader, which can cause a technical document to be really confusing. Employees expect technical documents to be clear, concise, and to the point. That's why technical writers are expected to put their extra thoughts in the end matter.

End matter is information at the end of the document that provides sources and additional material that helps further explain information in the document. End matter can support a document by:

  • Defining terms introduced in the document
  • Expanding on information in the document
  • Helping readers find additional information about the topic

Three items found in the end matter that specifically provide additional information for the reader are glossaries, footnotes, and appendices.

Glossaries

Have you ever read a book and encountered a word you just didn't know? Did you skip it, or did you actually take the time to look it up? As an English teacher, I hope that you looked up the definition, but I know in today's fast-paced society, that's not always what happens. However, in technical documents, words that an audience might not know may be vital to understanding how a product should be made or used. These words can't just be skipped over! That is why technical documents will sometimes include glossaries.

Glossaries are lists of terms and definitions related to a specific topic. Glossaries are included at the end of a document so that readers can easily access words and definitions of important concepts relevant to a business. Obviously, not every word in the article can or should be defined. Therefore, words in glossaries should be limited to words that fall into one of the following categories:

  • Words that are being introduced for the first time
  • Words that are not regularly used in the audience's specific field or business
  • Words that are considered specialized or technical jargon

A glossary should be clearly labeled as 'Glossary' on the top of the page. The words being defined should be bolded or in a larger font than the definitions. The words should be alphabetized so that the readers can easily find a specific term. There is no specific formatting requirement for how the words should be separated, so it's up to the writer to determine how to space the definitions on the page. Traditionally, writers double space between each definition. No numbering or bullets are necessary.

Footnotes

My mom used to say I thought I knew everything. If she told me that I needed to clean my room, I would respond by saying, 'Did you know that research has shown students work better in messy rooms because it's a more comfortable environment?' I was full of interesting facts, and I liked to share my knowledge, especially when it got me out of doing work. Footnotes were designed for people like me who want to add information to a main point.

Footnotes are additional information about a topic added at the bottom of a page in a document. Explanations and commentary can be distracting in the middle of a paragraph if the information deviates from the main topic. Therefore, footnotes allow the author to add additional information without digressing from the main point of a text.

Footnotes should be used for the following purposes:

  • To provide citations for quotes longer than 500 words or figures that were originally published in another document
  • To provide an explanation of a topic that may digress from the original topic or point
  • To provide personal commentary on a topic by the author

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