What is an index?
An index is a roadmap to the information in a
document, which can be a book, journal article, Web site, database,
technical manual, catalog, graphic imageanything that requires
an organized approach to the content.
The index is a guide to the
concepts in the document, written from the users viewpoint. The
terms used by the author will certainly appear in the index; but a
good index includes additional terms and cross references that the
user may be seeking. For example, in a medical book written for
professionals, the author may talk about myocardial
infarction and cardiovascular accidents. If the
book is likely to be used by non-professionals, the terms heart
attack and stroke will also appear in the index,
since those are the words familiar to a lay person.
If the words
sought by the user do not appear in the index either as a term or a cross-reference, access to the information in that document is lost.
What makes a good index?
The American Society for Indexings Index
Evaluation Checklist can help you judge the quality of an index.
Essentially, a good index
- is appropriate for the intended audience and written from the
- has no more than 5-7 undifferentiated
locators (page references) for any main heading or
- uses see and see also cross references
- uses subheadings appropriately.
- avoids unnecessary words and phrases (concerning, related
- uses a consistent and clear format.
- is well-edited,
with accurate locators and no typographical errors.
Why hire a professional indexer?
An index is an intellectual collaboration between
author and indexer. The author provides subject matter knowledge, and
the indexer contributes professional skills, objectivity, and a fresh
viewpoint to the text. Specifically, the indexer provides
- knowledge of current standards of indexing and information
- use of dedicated indexing software permitting easy
compliance with virtually any index style guideline.
- delivery of
the index in a variety of print or electronic formats, including
embedded codes in a text file if required.
- quick turnaround time.
For additional information, see Indexing for Editors and Authors: A Practical Guide to Understanding Indexes, by Fred Leise, Kate Mertes, and Nan Badgett (Information Today, Inc., 2008). The American Society for Indexings web site also offers advice for editors and authors about indexing and working with freelance indexers.
ASI's recommendations for Best Professional Practices reflect what you should expect from the client/indexer relationship. The ASI Excellence in Indexing Award (formerly H.W. Wilson Award) recognizes excellence in book indexing with awards to both the indexer and publisher of award-winning works. Samples from award-winning indexes can be viewed on the website.