How to add a traditional glossary to a Microsoft Word document

Don't let Word's lack of a proper glossary feature stop you from adding one. Use the Table of Authorities feature instead.

Image: GaudiLab, Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the article, 3 ways to add glossary terms to a Microsoft Word 2016 document, I show three ways to display glossary terms without generating a traditional glossary. Adding a glossary to the end of a document isn't difficult, but it isn't intuitive either. For better or worse, there's no built-in glossary feature, but you can usurp an existing feature—Table of Authorities—to create a traditional glossary. In this article, I'll show you how.

I'm using Office 365's Word 2016 (desktop). This technique will work in older versions. You can work with your own document or download the demonstration .docx and .doc files. You can't mark references in the browser edition.

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About Table of Authorities

The Table of Authorities (TA) feature lets you build a list of citations and is traditionally part of a legal brief. You mark cases, statues, and sources and the feature lists them and the page numbers where they occur. It's very similar to marking a document to create an index, but the TA feature has more functionality.

To use the feature, you select the term you want to define. Then, you press Alt+Shift+i to launch the Mark Citation dialog. Or, you can click the References tab, and then click Mark Citation in the Table of Authorities group. In the Mark Citation dialog, you can assign a category and edit the short citation, but we won't do so.

After marking all the terms, you can generate the TA, or glossary, by positioning the cursor where you want the glossary, clicking the References tab, and then click Insert Table of Authorities in the Table of Authorities group. Similar to Word's Table of Contents feature, if you add, delete, move, or edit a marked citation, you must update the TA; don't modify the actual TA itself.

Step 1: Mark glossary terms

The first step to creating a glossary is to mark the terms. We'll mark the following items in the demonstration file:

  • Video: The recording, reproducing, or broadcasting of moving visual images.
  • Styles: Preset formatting sets for consistent formatting.
  • SmartArt: A formatting tool that comes with Word.

First, let's add video by selecting that word in the second line in the first paragraph. Then, do the following:

  1. Open the Mark Citation dialog by pressing Alt+Shift+i.
  2. Add the definition to the Select text: Add a colon, and then type or paste the definition (Figure A). If pasting, copy the definition to the Clipboard before opening the Mark Citation dialog.
  3. Click Mark and then click Close.

Figure A

Add the term's definition.

Word automatically enables the Show/Hide option, so you can see the resulting code, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

You can display the TA citation in the document.

When you mark your terms is up to you. Some prefer to mark as they go, but the codes complicate things. You might find in the end, that you prefer marking terms after you've completed the document. Because you're creating a glossary and not an index or Table of Contents, it doesn't matter which term you select if the term occurs multiple times. After marking the three glossary terms, your document might resemble the one shown in Figure C.

Figure C

We marked three glossary terms.

Step 2: Generate the glossary

After marking all the glossary terms, you're ready to generate the actual glossary. Before you do so, I recommend disabling the Show/Hide feature by clicking that option in the Paragraph tab (on the Home tab).

To get started, position the cursor where you want the glossary to appear. Then, click the References tab, and then click Insert Table of Authorities in the Table of Authorities group. In the resulting dialog, choose (none) from the Tab Leader dropdown. Click OK, and you can see the resulting glossary in Figure D.

Figure D

We have the beginnings of a traditional glossary.

Step 3: Problems

It's immediately obvious that there are a few problems: The TA displays a title based on the category you choose when marking the term, and the table displays page numbers.

The first, the Cases title, is easily solved. Simply select it and press Delete. Or, replace it with Glossary. However, every time you update the glossary, you need to delete or replace the title text. To the best of my knowledge, there's no permanent solution.

There's no switch for turning off the page numbers, but it's easy to hide them as follows:

  1. Click the Insert tab and choose an option from the Shapes dropdown. In this case, a rectangle works nicely.
  2. Click just above the first number and drag until the shape covers all the numbers.
  3. Click the shape and choose white (or the appropriate color) for the fill color and turn off the border color.
  4. As you can see in Figure E, the numbers are hidden, and the title says Glossary.

Figure E

Hide the page numbers.

Changing the title and hiding the page numbers is awkward, but it gets the job done. Just remember to tweak both if you update the table.

Step 4: Oops!

Did you notice that there's a typo in the definition for video? The word broadcasting is missing the b. Fortunately, this is easy to fix. Enable Show/Hide so you can see the code. Then, simply add the b. It's that simple. You can also add formatting to the term or the definition in the same way; it will appear only in the table. The downside is that you need to manually add the formatting to each term or definition.

As I mentioned earlier, when you update the glossary to show corrections, additions, or deletions, you must update the title and check the white rectangle to make sure it's still hiding all the page numbers. To update the table, right-click anywhere inside the table and choose Update Field from the resulting submenu.

With a quick search on the subject, you will find references to hiding the page numbers by altering the actual field code. Specifically, you can add the \e switch and a few tabs. This worked reasonably well in earlier versions. Normally, I wouldn't recommend the shape to hide the numbers, but it always works whereas the switch is iffy in recent versions. It's not a great solution, but if you want a traditional glossary, you'll have to live with it.

Send me your question about Office

I answer readers' questions when I can, but there's no guarantee. Don't send files unless requested; initial requests for help that arrive with attached files will be deleted unread. You can send screenshots of your data to help clarify your question. When contacting me, be as specific as possible. For example, "Please troubleshoot my workbook and fix what's wrong" probably won't get a response, but "Can you tell me why this formula isn't returning the expected results?" might. Please mention the app and version that you're using. I'm not reimbursed by TechRepublic for my time or expertise when helping readers, nor do I ask for a fee from readers I help. You can contact me at

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About Susan Harkins

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

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