I want to include a glossary in my master’s thesis explaining some technical terms.

My university doesn't make any specifications about the usage or position of glossaries. So I'm asking myself:

  • Is it better to put the glossary at the beginning of the thesis? (e.g. between the Table of Contents and the main content) That way the reader would see it first and either read it or keep in mind that he can look up unfamiliar terms there. But it would disrupt the reading flow between Abstract, Table of Contents and Content.
  • Or would it be better to but the glossary in the appendix? Maybe with footnotes refering to it, each time a new term is used for the first time.

The current structure of the thesis is:

- Titlepage
- Abstract
- Table of Contents
- Main Content
   - Chapter A
   - Chapter B
   - ...
   - Chapter N
- Appendix
   - Appendix A
   - Appendix B
   - Table of Images
   - Table of Tables
   - Table of Literature

5 Answers 5


It is utterly a matter of style. Just put it where it makes more sense to you. If you expect people actually NEED to read it before they can read your thesis, just put it in front. Otherwise, put it after the main text.

  • If somebody needs to read the glossary highly depends on the reader. My professor might need it. I'm only wondering if it might disrupt the flow of reading to much.
    – Kaadzia
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 23:21
  • 2
    My thesis had a list of abbreviations and acronyms that came as part of the front matter. It was easier to define all of those things once at the beginning in the same place rather than worry if I need to redefine HMQC in chapter 4, when it hasn't been used since chapter 1.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 14:46
  • 1
    In another guideline of my university (one about assignments in general) I just now found the instruction to put the glossary before the main text. So in my case the decision to have it at the front was the right one.
    – Kaadzia
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 14:07

I suggest to follow the order reported on Wikipedia – Book design.

Here is the suggested order (skip all that is not needed in your thesis; colophons are only needed in published works, and your publisher will take care of them):

  • front matter
    • title page
    • colophon
    • contents
    • foreword
    • preface
    • acknowledgment
    • introduction
    • dedication
    • prologue
  • body matter
    • content – optionally divided into volumes, books, parts, chapters, sections
  • back matter
    • epilogue
    • outro
    • afterword
    • conclusion
    • postscript
    • appendix
    • glossary
    • bibliography
    • index
    • colophon
  • 4
    Could you reproduce the essence of the wiki page here, this makes your post selfcontained, and not dependend on a non StackExchange external website. Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 19:15
  • 2
    I'm not sure if the wikipedia article on Book design in general is the perfect match for a thesis. Reading a piece of fiction like "Lord of the Rings" which is mentioned as instructive example in the article, is a whole different way of reading than reading a scientific work. So the best order of the contents might be different, too.
    – Kaadzia
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 23:17
  • 1
    Good point. That list seems to be tailored to all kinds of publications, though: most works of fiction do not need a glossary, a bibliography and an index, so I would say that the authors had at least both fiction and non-fiction in mind. (that said, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that LotR contains all of them). Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 12:52
  • One element very specific to some kinds of academic theses are the included papers. Do they go all the way at the end of the back matter? What about the lists of papers, somewhere in the front matter? Would be nice to have a list more geared to this.
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 15:04
  • @gerrit List of papers included in the thesis should be either a part of Introduction, or go directly before it. If you include a "carbon-copy" of all the pepers in the thesis, I suggest putting them after everything else. They form a completely non-intergal part of the thesis, they have their own title, list of authors, references etc.
    – yo'
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 14:24

Put the glossary after any appendices and before the index.

EDIT: This advice is simply based on a very quick survey of the textbooks that I had close to hand. The sample size is therefore small, possibly subject biased (physics, mathematics, astronomy, economics), and therefore subject to argument. Thanks to aeismail for the comment prompting this edit.

  • 4
    Just curious—is there a specific reason why it should be there?
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 2, 2012 at 18:43
  • 3
    Aside from any over-riding requirements set by a departmental style guide (and we're told that there is none in this case), placing the glossary at the end of the document in general seems to correspond with the trend that I see in the textbooks that I use. Conformity with established trends isn't necessarily a good thing, I realise.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 12:51
  • You should put that in your answer (I should have mentioned that in my original comment; the goal was to avoid a "quick-fire" answer that doesn't explain things to future readers).
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 13:44
  • 1
    Nicholas, if I understand you correctly the reason for your advice is, that most people do it that way. Is that what you meant?
    – Kaadzia
    Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 15:01
  • 1
    @Karin: Yes, but see the qualification that I included in my edit.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Dec 4, 2012 at 9:20

The other answers already contain the conclusions of my answer. However, I'll try to give some reasoning behind.

  • Glossary, Nomenclature, List of Symbols, Index, References, etc. -- all these are indexes, and should go to the backmatter.

  • Table of Contents, List of Figures, etc. -- these specify the contents, and should go to the frontmatter.

The difference is that indexes are have in general logical sorting of some type (alphabetical or other), whereas the contents strictly reflect the order of the text in the document.

As for the order of them: the more used they are, the farer away from the mainmatter they go (i.e. first in frontmatter and last in backmatter). This depends a lot on your reader. The reason for this is that the closer to the cover they are, the easier it is to reach them. In general, the most used index in a thesis are the references, so they go last. In textbooks, the General index goes last, since it's more interesting for the reader.

The rule above is, on the other hand, less important than the fact that Title, half-title, dedication, preface and colophon have priority, and are obviously the outer-most elements of the work.

So, in the end, you might get to this order:


  Table of Contents
  other "Contents"


  Various indexes (Glossary, Nomenclature, ...)
  References / Bibliography
  Colophon (if placed in backmatter; it can go before
     half-title on the verso page as well)

In the end, none of these rules is very strict.

  • 1
    Interesting reasoning. Especially the part the closer to the cover, the easier to reach. Personally I wouldn't feel to comfortable putting something like the list of figures or list of tables before the main content. I don't want to force all readers to thumb through something they might not need, before they can start reading.
    – Kaadzia
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 14:40
  • @kdzia The point is: How many people are actually going to read the thesis from the very beginning to the very end? Not many I think, and each of them will need to find Chapter 1 exactly once (when they start reading). So it doesn't matter whether you have two or three more sheets of paper before the actual Chapter 1 or not.
    – yo'
    Commented Dec 12, 2013 at 14:46
  • I think it does matter. If the majority of the readers are interested in reading the titlepage, the abstract, the TOC and in skimming through the chapters, the thesis should be optimized for that. The few who want to read the table of images and table of tables before the main content will have to go to the backmatter for that.
    – Kaadzia
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 9:57

A glossary in the front before the main body has less context and disrupts the flow -- people want to read the body, not get to a list of definitions first. I attended an editorial seminar once and the instructors recounted anecdotes of leading tech companies who requested user studies on content placement like LOT, LOF, TOC, glossaries, and so on. The verdict: Just give me the content first and make it lean.

  • Thanks Chris. Do you happen to have any references to the user studies you're mentioning? That would be very interresting.
    – Kaadzia
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 16:15

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .