Indexing: Best Practices - article

Like anything else, indexing has a set of best practices. A good index adds value to your book. The key to compiling a good index is to remember that every pertinent topic and name mentioned in the book should be included. Another way to approach indexing is to consider what NOT to index. Here are some things that should NOT be indexed:

• Authors cited in the bibliography
• Illustrations, if the book already contains a list of these
• Unimportant subjects (of course, this is subjective, and is invariably a matter of the indexer’s perspective)
• Incidental names of people, topics and places that are not mentioned beyond being used as examples

So what should be included? Remember that the index is a reference tool designed to help the reader quickly locate instances of certain key topics in your book. With that in mind, you know best what is or is not relevant to your readers. So use your judgment about what is pertinent. Do you want to make it easy for the reader to locate the information about pineapples you included in your book on healthy fruits? Then index should cover relevant mentions of the topic but not instances where it’s mentioned in passing. For instance, include the chart describing the variety of pineapples, the reference to where they are commonly grown, the best place to buy them, and the tips list on how to pick a good pineapple.

Be sure that your index clearly separates different perspectives on the information. For example, you wouldn’t want to list “Pineapples: pp. 1, 4, 6, 29, 65, 99”. “Pineapples” is a pretty broad topic and doesn’t help the reader narrow down the information they are trying to locate. Instead, you might index it as “Pineapples; varieties: p. 99”; “Pineapples; commonly grown areas: p. 101”; “Pineapples; best place to buy: p. 102”; and “Pineapples; how to pick: p. 103”. Also, don’t forget to cross reference with other topics. If you are indexing “Tropical Fruits” you will want an entry for all items mentioned, including mangos, durians, papayas, and yes… pineapples.

There are a number of software programs designed to assist with the indexing process, including Cindex, Macrex, PDF Index Generator, SkyIndex and TExtract. Also, most word processing software, such as Microsoft Word, includes an indexing tool. However, the key to a good index is the proper selection of which items to include in it. This is a manual effort by which you select each word that you want to index and ‘mark’ it as part of the index. It requires that the book be well structured to begin with, and that the indexer be familiar with the content.

See other articles here on the author Learning Center about who should do the indexing and how to do it.

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