Unger Indexing
Your Words Are In Good Hands

About Indexing

       
What is an index?

An index is more than just an alphabetical list of a book’s main names, places and topics--it is an artfully crafted arrangement of the book’s concepts, terms and names in the form of headings and subheadings that are clear, concise and accurate. A good indexer has the reader in mind when choosing which information to include and which terms to use for concepts not explicitly stated in the text but which are useful to readers who may be less familiar with the topic than the author.

A good index groups together references to the same topic and uses subheadings, rather than long strings of page numbers, to guide readers directly to a specific aspect of a topic. It should also direct readers to related information by the judicious use of cross-references and double-posting.

The look and feel of an index is usually determined by the publisher’s style sheet. If no style sheet is provided, I can help make these decisions based on what is appropriate to the text. I am familiar with The Chicago Manual of Style. I work with Macrex dedicated indexing software, which allows me to manipulate index entries with efficiency to meet a wide variety of publishing styles that determine how the index will look on the page. Some of these stylistic decisions can be made after the indexing process has begun:
 
• Format (indented or run-in)
• Alphabetization (word-by-word or letter-by-letter)
• Depth of indexing (number of levels of subheadings; most books can be indexed with two levels)
• Capitalization format (initial capitals for headings or only for proper nouns and names)
• Cross-reference style and punctuation (see and see also references)
• Page range format (full numbers, 101-108, or elided, 101-8)
• Alphabetical separators

Why have an index?

• Libraries and universities often look at the index prior to a publication being placed on their acquisitions list. Librarians prefer books with indexes.
• Academics and scholars rely on indexes to find specific information critical to their research.
• Professors and academic teams review indexes when deciding which books will be used as textbooks.
• Book reviewers mention indexes, especially bad indexes, and (lately) the absence of indexes.
• Consumers peruse indexes of similar books to help them decide which book to purchase. Amazon.com includes indexes in the "Look Inside" feature to let customers compare book content before buying.

Author as indexer

According to The Chicago Manual of Style, “Although authors know better than anyone else their subject matter and the audience to whom the work is addressed, not all can look at their work through the eyes of a potential reader. Nor do many authors have the technical skills, let alone the time, necessary to prepare a good index that meets the publisher's deadline. Some authors produce excellent indexes. Others would be better to enlist the aid of a professional indexer.”

An indexing professional understands what it takes to make your publication a valuable research tool. Even authors with indexing skills are often too close to their work to provide all of the terms a potential reader might want to look up.

The author provides intimate knowledge of the subject. The indexer sees the work with fresh eyes, from the reader’s viewpoint, and leads the reader into the book via the index. A well-written index creates a bridge between author and reader, and should guide both expert and novice to every relevant idea expressed in the text.

The computer and indexing

A computer can easily provide a concordance, a list of words occurring in the text followed by a string of page numbers, but it cannot perform the analytic and creative work that make a well-crafted index. The indexer must select the terms to be entered, provide clear wording for the entries, and develop a logical organizational structure for the index. The computer cannot judge the importance of words and concepts in the text, nor can it make connections between related concepts or group related terms.

A word search will find every occurrence of a word, whether or not it is a pertinent mention. A word search will also miss discussions of a relevant concept where that word is not mentioned or a synonym is used.

It takes a professional indexer to provide an accurate framework of the author's concepts and to organize the material so that readers can find what they want quickly and easily. No computer program can accomplish this task. 

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