Many technical communicators consider glossaries an unnecessary relic left over from academic writing, and therefore assume that they are a waste of time and effort. Some companies even make a strategic decision not to include glossaries. In many cases, this decision is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and value of product documentation. Let’s take a look at the benefits of glossaries and how we can design them to add value to our documentation.
Do we need glossaries?
Recently, a client told me, “We don’t need to define any terms; users bought the product, so surely they understand all the concepts.”
Yet increasingly, users are abandoning the official product documentation in favor of online searches. They end up trying to understand the product from sources that may not be sanctioned by the manufacturer and may not even be accurate. A quick look at customer feedback reveals how dissatisfied users are with such official documentations.
There are many reasons for this customer dissatisfaction: poor navigation, missing topics, an improper level of writing, bad organization, lack of details, and more. A big contributing factor is assumed knowledge: writers assume that users can find information by searching, but that only works if users already know and understand the product terminology. In other words:
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