20 Dec 2010

Bleg on jargon typsetting style

I am revising (still!) The End of Abundance.

In the book, I have used jargon (e.g., aquifer or increasing block rates) that has a particular meaning.

At the moment, I define the words when they first appear; if they appear often, I also have them in the glossary.

I am not sure how to highlight them. (I want readers to know which words are in the glossary or not.)

So, it seems that I can put the words in bold (as in a textbook), small caps or leave them plain (letting readers figure out if they are in the glossary). Note that I only intend to do this on the first occurrence of the word.

Any thoughts on this?


  1. If you leave the terms in plain text you may want to write a forward or "how to use this book" paragraph explaining your use of jargon and what to expect in the glossary--or not. Most people picking up the book will be college graduates and very intuitive about such things. If you adopt textbook style, you'll be compelled to follow that throughout and that may lead to other style revisions that aren't appropriate to a work of non fiction.

  2. Gotta agree with 4 mound farm: leave the book with normally formatted text, stick a note about the glossary in a forward, and leave it at that. With terms that are really tricky - either because of deviant meanings between disciplines or a specific use that you may mean - define them in-line or in a side box (as well as sticking it in the glossary).

  3. It depends!

    Who do you consider as the primary audience, technical readers, casual readers or others?

    How do you see most readers using the book? Cover to cover or reference text?

    Then, select an approach that is informative and least obtrusive yet useful to the broadest scope of potential readers.

    If technical, then jargon and technical terms can be best defined and consistently available in the glossary. Although is can depend on the audience and how they use the book. What do you see as the vocabulary of your audience? Should most people (50% +1) have enough vocabulary to get through the book and use the glossary when needed? This gets to the obtrusive aspect of defining in the text. An alternative would be to define unique terms with an active example, case study etc. Engage the reader and create a valuable learning experience.

    Defining at the beginning has much less value as compared to a good glossary for those readers that skip through the book. Those readers that read cover to cover like Steig Larson, defining when the term is first use could be adequate in most cases.

    If the reader reads the book front to back, then you can define jargon early in the text, but if you defined the term on page ten and it comes up again on page 200, where does the reader go to best access the definition of the term. – the glossary.

    Hope this helps as I see it as a chewy challenge for you. I would lean towards using the glossary and attempt to discuss unique definitions in a more active example that brings home the definition in an example.

    Best of luck, when will I see you on the Daily Show or the Cobert Report !

  4. Agree with above comments. As a non-expert reader, I would be distracted by special types for technical terms. I would probably feel compelled to keep flipping to the glossary, even for terms I know, to see if you were using it the same way I expect. That would frustrate me quickly. A specific example, a vivid story, in a side-bar on first occurrence would be best for me.


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