Tech Write Tips

February 14, 2006

Best Practices: Write a Dictionary

Filed under: Best Practice — AndyR @ 1:48 pm

dictionary1.gifIt has been said that a dictionary is a:

“malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.”

This is the crux of the matter. The dictionaries imposed on us can be seen as cramping style and limiting creativty. However, if we use and own our dictionaires, they become tools that frame and enable our highest works of communication. Ownership and use are key, and go hand in hand. This is the basis of today’s best pratice suggestion. Start your own dictionary, make it particular to your work, then get in the habit of using it. I have found the following features useful in our in-house dictionary.

  • Build on existing style manual. We use Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications, it’s not perfect but it gives us a starting point.
  • In your dictionary document it is useful to be able to sort in a variety of ways. We find it particularly useful to order entries by their created date.
  • Ideally your dictionary should be searchable, we do this with some xsl filtering, but as long as your is electroinc is should be pretty straight forward to search.
  • Finally, ensure your dictionary is freely and easily accessible to those who need it.

You should record your dictionary in the medium that best suites your needs. We use an xml file which is then transformed for viewing. This enables it to be viewable in  avariety of formats and quickly ordered or searched as required.

XML File:
 <Date></Date> – Date the netry was added to enable you to highlight new entries.
 <Update></Update> – Updated date to enable you to highlight updates.
 <Category></Category> – Grouping of the type of entry, is it general grammar, procedural or formatting.
 <Item></Item> – Unique reference for the item, usually the word or phrase in question
 <rule></rule> – A description of how the item should be used.
 <Correct></Correct> – An example of how the item should be used in practice.
 <Incorrect></Incorrect> – An example of how the item should not be used in practice.

XSL File:
<xsl:for-each select=”//Entry”>
 <xsl:sort select=”Update” order=”descending”/>
 <B><xsl:value-of select=”Item”/></B> <xsl:value-of select=”Category”/>
 <P><xsl:value-of select=”rule”/></P>
  <xsl:for-each select=”Correct”>
   <LI>Correct: <xsl:value-of select=”../Correct”/> </LI>
  <xsl:for-each select=”Incorrect”>
   <LI>Correct: <xsl:value-of select=”../Incorrect”/> </LI>
 <P><xsl:value-of select=”Date”/> <xsl:value-of select=”Update”/></P>


  1. That’s all well and good but how do I get my authors to use the dictionary? Particularly where they have historically done things differently.

    Comment by dave — February 16, 2006 @ 8:17 am | Reply


    Comment by Bill — May 12, 2007 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  3. hi,i want to write a dictionary of translation of English to my language(South African language,sepedi).The first step i have done so far is the translation of words but i have not finish with that.The second step that i want to do is to put the words in alphabetical order,since the words are so numerous and writing them in order using hand it will take me a very long time to finish,I like to know if is there any software or electronic device that can facilitate in laying the words in order.

    Comment by Theko — July 21, 2009 @ 12:03 pm | Reply

    • Hello Theko.
      I am a grade 12 student and I have IT at school. Our Practical Assessment Task this year is to create an electronic dictionary. If you send me your Sepedi database with words via email, I can include Sepedi in my program and you will be able to sort your wors alphabetically with my program.
      Regards, Carli.

      Comment by Carli Grobbelaar — February 6, 2011 @ 12:18 pm | Reply

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