What is a Business Glossary Template? & How to Build a Business Glossary for Your Organization?

Updated September 20th, 2023
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A business glossary template is the starting point for setting up a business glossary for your organization.

If you’re looking for a business glossary template, here’s an example (see the image below). The template includes elements that can add context to a data set, such as a definition, origin/source, use cases, the latest updates, and more.

business glossary temaplte example

An example of a business glossary template. Image by Atlan.

But before we delve into the nuances of setting up a business glossary template, let’s understand the core concepts — what’s a business glossary, examples, and how to create one for your organization.

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What is a business glossary? And what should be in it?

A business glossary helps identify, manage, and discover data assets to simplify data search, discovery, and use within organizations. It includes critical data elements such as definitions, categories, usages, owner details, and other information that add context to a data asset.

Sometimes, data teams refer to a business glossary as a data glossary or a data lexicon.

Interested in learning more about a data glossary? We’ve got you covered with our in-depth explainer article on the data glossary and how to create one for your team.

Business glossary vs Data dictionary

However, a business glossary is not the same as a data dictionary. Here’s how data governance coach Nicola Askham explains the difference between the two:

  1. A data dictionary is seen as an IT-owned document. In contrast, a business glossary is (or should be) created and maintained by the business teams.
  2. The focus of a business glossary is to improve the business understanding and use of data. So, each domain can have only one universal business glossary.
  3. Meanwhile, a data dictionary stores technical terms, definitions, and technical metadata. So, there’s a data dictionary for every system you create and implement.

She goes on to say that if you already have one or several data dictionaries, those are an excellent place to start setting up a business glossary.

What should be in a business glossary template?

While every organization has a unique set of requirements, here are some of the basic elements that should be in a business glossary:

  • Term: A term is a unique unit inside each glossary describing the content of the data assets.

example of term in business glossary

An example of the term field for the data asset called ‘Average order value’ in the Instacart glossary. Image by Atlan

  • Description: The description helps define a term.

example of description in business glossary

The description of the term ‘Average order value’ in the Instacart glossary. Image by Atlan

  • Category: The category groups terms similar in context together. For instance, the ‘Average order value’ term from our example belongs to the Sales category.

example of categories in business glossary

An example of categories and sub-categories inside a business glossary. Image by Atlan

  • You can further organize each category by adding sub-categories.
  • Classification: A classification is also a category for your data (like PII or sensitive data) that helps you set access policies at a granular level. Providing a classification for each glossary term is a key data protection requirement from most regulatory bodies.
  • Created by: This refers to the person who set up the glossary entry for a data asset.
  • Last updated by: This refers to the person who made the most recent edits to a glossary entry.

Who is responsible for the business glossary?

Traditionally, the business teams were responsible for the business glossary.

With the growing importance of data democratization and the rising number of data consumers, anyone within the organization can suggest a glossary page.

However, the members of a data governance committee — for instance, data stewards — handle the approval and setup. They’re also responsible for standardizing the definitions, rules, and policies around data.

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What does a business glossary template look like?

A business glossary is unique to each organization. Here are two examples of organizations that have set up their glossaries.

First is FIBO — Financial Industry Business Ontology. This glossary has several categories and sub-categories to organize better. Each glossary entry has:

  • A label or the classification
  • A title or the term
  • Abstract or the description

Besides these, the FIBO glossary includes more information, such as metadata, connections, and ontological characteristics (i.e., the relationship with other entries in the glossary).

snapshot of FIBO

The FIBO business glossary. Source EDM Council

Another example is NAIC or the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

The NAIC has set up a glossary of terms and definitions commonly used in the insurance business. The NAIC Research and Actuarial Department staff maintains and updates the NAIC glossary.

snapshot of NAIC

The NAIC Glossary. Source NAIC

One last example is what a business glossary inside Atlan looks like.

screenshot of Atlan business glossary

A business glossary inside Atlan. Image by Atlan.

In addition to the glossary terms name, description, category, classification, and owners, the glossary entry inside Atlan provides more context for each data asset. These include the README, linked assets, related terms, synonyms, and more.

How do you create a business glossary template?

Here’s how you can create a business glossary for your organization:

  1. Map all the essential data domains and assets to understand how to set up the glossary. This mapping helps you define the categories, sub-categories, and classifications for each glossary entry.

    At this stage, you should also familiarize yourself with the data protection laws and requirements to classify sensitive information accordingly.

  2. Use the mapping to create a business glossary template. The business glossary template is the building block of your glossary. So, make sure that it is comprehensive and relevant.

business glossary template

An example of a business glossary template. Image by Atlan

  1. Follow industry best practices rather than reinvent the wheel. For example, you can use the FIBO glossary as the base/template to organize your financial data.
  2. Establish processes for building, modifying, and maintaining a business glossary.
  3. Assign an owner, like a data steward, who handles maintaining and updating the glossary regularly.
  4. Maintain a hierarchical structure so that glossaries from multiple domains can co-exist.
  5. As mentioned earlier, aim to interlink the glossary entries with your data ecosystem.

hierarchical nature of business glossary template

An example of the hierarchical structure for a business glossary. Image by Atlan

How do you create the best business glossary template?

The business glossary template is the building block of your glossary. So, creating a business glossary is all about developing the right template.

While building the glossary template, here are two things to bear in mind:

  1. Mimic your organizational structure: Make it easier for your people to use the glossary by using the same department or team names. So, you can set up team-wise categories such as finance, marketing, and sales.
  2. Set up sub-categories: You can organize each team or department further using sub-categories that reflect the project, data source, or report.

One last thing — as mentioned earlier, try finding and using existing glossaries as the baseline, rather than reinventing the wheel.

What do you need to implement the business glossary template?

Implementing the business glossary template should be in phases:

  1. Establish data definitions and business glossary guidelines
  2. Assemble a team of experts
  3. Scale the whole process

Let’s explore each phase.

The first step is to establish data definitions and get the members of the data governance committee, as well as other stakeholders, to sign off on these definitions.

While the governance committee handles the data definitions, it’s prudent to have a domain or subject matter expert (SME) create the glossary term names and definitions.

So, the next phase is to assemble a team of SMEs and establish guidelines for creating glossary entries. At this stage, you can also assign owners for each category to ensure accountability.

The last phase is to identify ways to scale the entire process. You can automate the process of sourcing terms and linking them to other data assets using intelligent bots. For instance, the Atlan Bot uses certain algorithms to auto-suggest glossary terms for data assets. It also maps columns with all business glossary terms created in Atlan.

Also, you can crowdsource glossary term suggestions and have an admin or data steward monitor the process.

So, you tap into the tribal knowledge of various people within your organization to build a rich business glossary. Meanwhile, the gatekeepers (admins and stewards) ensure the integrity and credibility of the business glossary.

Business glossary template: Best practices

Here are four best practices to make sure that you build an effective business glossary template:

  1. Start small and build in iterations. So, you can create a business glossary template and add a few terms for one category before making it an organization-wide initiative.
  2. Build a standard for writing term names, and definitions, setting up categories and sub-categories, and assigning classifications. See how to transform every aspect of the business glossary into a template, with a formula. This standardizes the glossary creation process.
  3. Create accountability, especially for verifying the business glossary template and validating definitions. You can assign ownership to a small group of SMEs.
  4. Once the small use cases have been validated, you should explore ways to scale the process and involve more people, especially businesses and end-users.

Are you looking for an automated business glossary solution? Explore Atlan — data discovery and data catalog solution built for the modern data stack

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

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