Indexing Demystified

When I had finished my indexing course more than two years ago, my friends would ask me, “what is indexing?” I tried explaining it in simple terms, making this craft sound even more mysterious. For those who have been wondering what indexing is all about, I’ll try my best to describe it in this article.

Definition

Indexing can have several definitions. The term “web indexing” refers to the process of storing web contents, while “search engine indexing” means collecting and storing web data for “fast and accurate information retrieval.”[1] The indexing I’m referring to can be best understood in the context of books, journals, monographs, and other similar media. Basically, an index is a list of terms you’ll find at the end of most non-fiction books, and indexing is the process of generating such list.

Creating a high-quality index involves a great deal of analytical thinking and, of course, attention to detail. An indexer will read a text, try to locate the key concept and terms, and discover ways they are interrelated. A good index will always have a lot of sub-entries, references, and even double postings.

Some of the issues around the index-making process involve size requirements made by an author/publisher. If an index needs not to exceed a certain number of pages, choosing the right entries/sub-entries might become a challenge. An indexer will need to learn how to balance between making detailed references and economizing space–a very daunting task. Nevertheless, an indexer’s job can be very rewarding, as he/she gets to read a lot of books from many fields. Many former librarians, PhD graduates, and, broadly speaking, humanities majors choose to become indexers. Indexing is in demand in many fields, including sciences and law.

Why every non-fiction book should have an index

Recently, I had read a wonderful book on an excavation project in the Golan Heights written by one of the greatest scholars in the field. The content was amazing, and images, priceless. The problem was, it didn’t have an index. Since I was reading the book for enjoyment, this lacking didn’t affect me too much. However, if I were to use it for a research project, then there would be a problem.  Surely, one can use a table of contents to navigate around a book, but what about specific terms? How can one find them without an index? The answer is, going page by page. The process can quickly become wearisome for a reader and may affect his/her perception of the whole book. That’s why every non-fiction title, especially a scholarly one, should have a carefully-written index. Not only will it enrich the content but will also make the entire book more user-friendly.

Knowing your options as an author

As a non-fiction author, you have several options including writing your own index or using computerized software to create one.  There is nothing wrong with either of them. It’s even possible to generate one using the “Insert Index” feature located under the “References” tab in Microsoft Office.[2] To do so, you’ll have to mark entries first using the “Mark Entry” button, also located under the “References” tab. [3] If you click on the button, you’ll be able to key in sub-entries, cross references, and page ranges, as well as choose the format for page numbers. Although this method  may sound easy, you might end up with extra work, such as reversing some of the terms manually (i.e., “indexing, the art of” instead of “the art of indexing”) and ensuring these terms stay in an alphabetic order.

To avoid the hassle and to save time, you can always hire a professional indexer. Indexers use specialized software that alphabetizes all entries and sub-entries automatically and can format documents according to individual preferences (i.e., either run-in or indented). Also, if you want your sub-entries organized in a non-alphabetical order but to follow a certain chronology, your indexer will take care of that.  Even if you’ve already written an index, it’s always good to get a second opinion. Hiring an indexer might sound like a costly undertaking, but it will definitely be a great investment.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_indexing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_engine_indexing

[2] http://word.mvps.org/faqs/formatting/Createindex.htm

[3] https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Create-an-index-and-update-an-index-cc502c71-a605-41fd-9a02-cda9d14bf073#bm5

Resources

American Society for Indexing 

Indexing Society of Canada

“A Good Index,” by Siusan Moffat.

 

 

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