Monday, August 10, 2020

What Writers Need to Know About Indexing a Book


So, What is Book Indexing?

The concept of indexing is probably familiar to most people, but a phrase that is rather difficult to pin down and explain.  Essential things like classification, order, table of contents, items, pages, references, are all core components of books.  These are the most common elements of book creation, particularly non-fiction books.  However, indexing any book can be a long and convoluted process that isn't easy to express in just a few words.

Roadmap to a Book

Originally from the Latin 'indicare', which means to point to, or indicate something.  An index is something that simply points out, or guides you towards some kind of information.  Any indexer who knows their stuff should be able to tell the difference between trivial items or important references when putting an index together. 

Best Means of Organising Information

From the beginning of time single books were used to store important information.  After the invention of the Gutenberg movable-type press other bibliographic tools were put into print.  Making indexing the main tool for storing and managing information.

Book Indexing is Part of Our Digital Future

Technology is ever changing in speed and method, and the way we interpret that information has advanced considerably.  The volume of data coming through requires the skillful brain of an indexer, and without them we'd all be lost in a sea of information. 

Why Do You Need to Index a Book?

For some people an index may seem like an unneccessary part of a book, but the simple truth is it plays an important part in delivering the information to the reader.  An index should give the reader a complete overview of the text contained, making it easier to locate the information required when it's needed.

It takes great technical and analytical skill to produce an index.  Therefore the information contained within the book should help the reader decide whether or not it's useful to them.  Overall creating a book index may be an investment on the part of the author or publisher, and it may increase book sales.
Helpful Hints to Index Your Book:
  • Thoroughly read all proofs or manuscript
  • Use keywords and make a list of terms that appear the most.
  • Divide your chosen terms into entries and subentries.
  • Add page numbers to chosen terms of meaningful references.
  • Put all main entries and subentries into alphabetical order.
  • Delete all duplicate entries, merge similar entries (e.g. singular and plural forms of the same term), and also provide cross-references.
  • Develop patterns that can be further developed at a later date into cross-references.
  • Rectify any left-over errors or stylistic mismatches between the index and the final text of your book.
  • Make sure all 'see' and 'see also' cross-references point to a valid entry and use the exact wording and spelling of that entry.
  • Register all page numbers in numerical order.
  • Ask yourself what your readers look for in an index?
  • Search for books on similar topics to help identify what is useful and what is not for you as the reader.
  • Make sure indexing is consistent throughout the book.
  • Include all important themes that are not directly connected to the heading structure in the index.
  • Stay clear of mentioning proper nouns because they were captured in your word search.
Things that Shouldn't be Included in the Index

  • Contents entries.
  • Glossary, Bibliography, Further Reading or References.
  • Notes, unless nominal information is included.
  • Contributor names, unless their other work is conveyed in detail in the text.
  • Preface, unless it contains nominal information not found elsewhere in the book.
Index Style
  • Observe the same text used after copyediting for capitalization, spelling, hyphenation styles etc.
  • Index entries other than proper nouns should start with lower-case letters.
  • Terms and spellings used in different chapters, by several authors, one variant should be chosen to appear consistently throughout the index.
Useful Indexing Software

There are a number of different kinds of indexing software on the market today.  The technique you choose depends on how much of a budget you have, reusability of the source material, time limit, media used to publish the material, transferral issues and file sizes, and individual references.

Here are the fundamentally different methodologies:

Dedicated or Standalone Tools

Mostly used for back-of-the-book indexes, allowing indexers to work from page-numbered galleys.  Indexing is separate from the rest of the published material.

Embedded Indexing

This process makes index entries electronically in a document's files.  Index entries are inserted as invisible text in the electronic files.


Allows indexing to be embedded in the electronic text after the indexing is complete.  Numbered dummy tags are inserted into the files, and then the index is built separately.


Used largely in online help materials.  Hard-coded jumps or similar WWW links can be inserted or embedded as coding and built into a list by the software.


Accompanied by most word-processing software, will build a concordance or word list, from processed files. 

Indexing Software

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