Making the Perfect Glossary

Every professional translator is familiar with the process of creating and adding to glossaries. These lists of specialized terms save time and promote consistency. So, knowing something about translation and glossary creation ourselves, we’d like to share our advice for freelancers wondering how to create glossaries and get the most out of them.

Illustration: New York State Department of Transportation

Illustration: New York State Department of Transportation

Let’s start with the basics. What is a glossary? A glossary includes terms with translations in one or more languages, with comments and usage examples. There are different types of glossaries:

  • Industry glossaries include terms that are standard for a particular industry or subject area (oil and gas, banking, cardiology).
  • Client glossaries contain terms that are specific to the company or organization for which the translator is working. If you plan for a long-term partnership with a client, you should start your client glossary right now.
  • A project glossary helps to ensure consistent use of terms in an individual project. Like the other glossary types, project glossaries can be used by multiple translators at the same time.

Creating a glossary
The most elegant solution for glossary creation is when your CAT tool allows you to create and use glossaries in your usual translation environment. That way you do not have to search for additional tools or get distracted during the translation process.

In SmartCAT, for example, click the “Create Glossary” button on the “Glossaries” tab, and enter the necessary information (glossary name, languages, and comments).

Fill in as much information as possible in order to keep your glossaries well organized.


Adding terms to your glossaries
The most convenient way of adding terms is on the fly: if you notice a recurring term during translation, you add it right away. If you have a glossary enabled on your current project in SmartCAT, all you have to do is highlight the source term (or your translation of it) and press Ctrl+E. Fill in the necessary fields for the new term and click “Add”.


There are other ways of adding terms, however. You can add a term when creating a new glossary or import existing glossaries.

You can find all the details in the SmartCAT documentation.

Glossaries are a good way of storing all kinds of industry- and client-specific knowledge:

  • Special terms
  • Abbreviations and acronyms
  • Company-specific phrases and branding (titles, slogans, etc.)

When you’ve added a term to the glossary and encounter the term in a document, SmartCAT automatically reminds you of the approved translation. So you don’t have to open a new browser tab to look for the term among thousands of others.


We don’t recommend adding large pieces of text to glossaries – that’s what translation memory is for. General or non-specific phrases should not be added either.

Making the Perfect Glossary
The purpose of a glossary is to avoid ambiguity in the text and make the translation consistent. A few simple rules help to keep glossaries useful and convenient:

  1. Avoid duplicate entries. Having multiple versions of the same term can confuse you and result in errors. When a term has more than one meaning, add comments and context to guide your choice.
  2. Do not turn your glossary into a general-purpose dictionary. There is no need to include all common words in your glossary. Instead, try to have just the terms that are relevant specifically to the product or company for which you are translating.

    All fast food restaurants have “burgers” and “french fries” so these terms are not worth adding to your “Restaurants” glossary. But only McDonald’s has the Happy Meal and Quarter Pounder with Cheese — so if you do translate for McDonald’s, these terms will help!

    Exception: If you are starting in a new subject area, it may make sense to loosen this rule a bit at first.

  3. Context, context, context. Indicate the context of your terms. If you keep your glossaries in SmartCAT, be sure to add descriptions in the “Comments” and “Context” fields when adding a new term. Perhaps paste several sentences in which you have encountered the term previously.
  4. A glossary can also include a list of not to be translated terms (NTBTs). Almost every project has words and expressions that the client prefers to leave untranslated or that are traditionally left in the source language: company names, for example, are usually left as-is.
  5. Add definitions for terms. Definitions help you to quickly make sense of the text and translate sentences more quickly.

Why glossaries are different from translation memory, and why this matters
If you plan a career in translation, you will need both glossaries and translation memory. Each of these tools has its place and role. Translation memory “remembers” all your translations of previous texts, so (as mentioned above) try to fill your glossary with individual words, not entire sentences. Good luck!

And as always, if you have any questions about how to use glossaries in SmartCAT, refer to the product documentation or email our support team at [email protected]!

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