How do I format a glossary in MLA style?
Note: This post relates to content in the eighth edition of the MLA Handbook. For up-to-date guidance, see the ninth edition of the MLA Handbook.
Glossaries may be formatted in a number of ways, but generally terms are listed in alphabetical order with their definitions, and a line space separates each entry. They are generally placed before notes and works-cited lists and may appear as part of an appendix before those items.
In the following example, from Elizabeth Brookbank and H. Faye Christenberry’s MLA Guide to Undergraduate Research in Literature (Modern Language Association of America, 2019), entries are set in bold and followed by a period. Each term begins with a lowercase letter unless the term is a proper noun.
academic discipline. A branch of knowledge that is studied by students and researched by faculty members in higher education (e.g., literature and languages, history, biology, political science). Generally thought of as broader than an academic field, which is a scholar’s area of expertise in the discipline.
analyze. To break a work of literature down into distinct pieces or parts (e.g., themes, symbols, motifs, characters) and study them so as to better understand the whole.
annotation. A brief summary describing the subject or thesis of an article, book chapter, etc.
appendix. Usually located in the back, an appendix supplies additional or supplementary information about the topic covered in the main portion of the work. A book or an essay could have an appendix.
authority. The standing, credibility, or expertise that a person or organization has on a particular subject. Often denoted by certain education or training credentials or by work and life experiences.
bibliographic record. An entry in a library database or catalog that provides basic information about the item, such as author, title, publication, date.
bibliography. A list of all of the sources used (books, journals, websites, periodicals, etc.) in the process of researching and writing a paper. The list has different names, depending on its function and the citation style you are using (e.g., works cited in MLA style, references in APA style).
Boolean operators. Words (AND, OR, NOT) that are used to connect terms in various ways to determine how a database, search engine, or library catalog searches for the terms. They can expand or narrow a search or make sure that certain terms do not appear in search results.
Terms may also be separated from their definitions by a colon or a dash or set off by typography alone. In the following example, from Claire Kehrwald Cook’s Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing (Houghton Mifflin, 1985), no punctuation follows the glossary term. Boldface type is sufficient to distinguish the term from its definition.
a, an The choice of a or an before a word depends, of course, on the sound—not the letter—that follows: a ukulele but an uncle; an $8 check but a $10 check. We say an heirloom, an honor, and an hour because the initial consonants are silent; each word begins with a vowel sound. In the past, especially in England, the h was also virtually inaudible in words like history and hotel, so that the preceding article was an. But today the h is generally pronounced in these words, and the appropriate article is a. Some critics claim, however, that it is natural to use an when the first syllable of the h word is not stressed: A history book lists as an historical fact that . . . . The 1983 edition of Webster’s Collegiate, while noting that both a and an occur before such words in print, claims that an is more common in speech; but the 1982 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary reports that an unpronounced h in words like historical and hysterical is “now uncommon in American speech.” Though the appropriate article in that context may be a matter of opinion, or of varying pronunciation, an should dearly not precede a word that starts with an h you hear. Read a phrase aloud if you don’t know which article to use. Would an hypocrite pretend to an humble heart?