The Constitution and Function of an Index
An index is a web of interrelated terms reflecting the subject matter of a given text and its location, organized according to an accepted independent order (usually but not necessarily alphabetical).
An index provides users with multiple access points to both general and more detailed information contained in the indexed material.
An index locates relevant, substantive topics and consolidates information that may be scattered within a linear text.
An index provides cross-referencing of topics to allow users to transfer easily from their own vocabulary to the vocabulary of the text in order to find the information they seek.
Basic Mental Skills and Attitudes of Indexers
- Indexers should be able to:
- Recognize thematic patterns in text or other information.
- Grasp the meanings of subject matter quickly.
- Discriminate between significant information and passing mentions.
- Make synonymous and other relational semantic connections among terms.
- Perceive and organize the natural hierarchy of the information.
- Produce an index at a level of linguistic complexity appropriate to the users of the indexed material.
- Pay attention to accuracy of detail.
- Understand and use language well.
- Remain dedicated to task until completion.
- Meet deadlines and client requirements for index content, formatting and delivery.
- Be comfortable working alone.
- Accurately estimate project timelines for clients.
- Adapt easily to new technology and indexing requirements and opportunities.
- Work with computer hardware and software on a daily basis.
- Be able to represent the material fairly and not be swayed by self-interests or biases
- Maintain professional and cordial relations with authors, editors and other information clients.
The Indexing Process
- In general, indexers need to be able to:
- Create appropriate headings/subheadings that reflect text structure and meaning.
- Provide multiple access points for users through cross-referencing and double-posting.
- Perceive implicit concepts and include them in the index.
- Arrange entries into a systematic order that serves users.
- Create indexes for a variety of materials, both printed and electronic.
- Understand the subject matter at a working knowledge level if not an expert level.
- Tailor index depth and breadth of coverage for the audience level and type.
- Work within the space parameters for the index that may be required by the client.
- Distinguish indexable from non-indexable material for a given project.
- Apply appropriate ordering of material (alphabetical, topical, chronological, etc.).
- Structure index entries appropriately for more general vs. more detailed topics.
- Manage client communication and index delivery methods (email attachment submissions, PDFs, etc.)
- Understanding the structure and parts of an index entry (main heading, subheading, locators).
- In marking/highlighting hardcopy text or reading/reviewing hardcopy or electronic text for indexing, an indexer should be able to:
- Apply conventional note and highlighting methods for printed text.
- Develop a system for direct entry upon first reading.
- Properly analyze the structure of more general vs. more detailed topics.
- Perceive and note hierarchical as well as other relations among topics.
- Focus on keywords as user entry points.
- Distinguish intelligently between substantive vs. passing mentions.
- Perceive implicit concepts and create keywords that index users would likely look for.
- Develop a system for working with electronic text.
Creating Index Entries
- In formulating and entering index entries, an indexer should be able to:
- Create main headings and subentries in the proper syntax and format.
- Create cross-references in the proper format and apply them judiciously in the service of the user.
- Create double-postings of synonymous terms where appropriate.
- Include both general and more detailed terms as main entries (not just an outline of the material).
- Make appropriate decisions on subentry usage criteria based on audience and complexity level of subject matter.
- Apply appropriate use of prepositions and other function words in subentries.
- Employ consistency and conciseness in entry term phrasing.
- Accurately enter locators appropriate to the material and in proper format.
- Apply embedded indexing tag methods in proper format if required.
- Apply electronic linking methods for terms if required.
Editing and Proofreading of Indexes
- In editing and proofreading indexes, an indexer should be able to:
- Apply standard copyediting and proofreading methods to ensure accuracy.
- Check for consistent and concise phrasing for entries.
- Check for keyword placement as close to the front of the entry as logically possible.
- Ensure that main headings and subentries are formatted correctly for the project.
- Ensure that cross-references are properly used and formatted.
- Ensure that synonymous terms are double-posted where appropriate.
- Ensure the spelling and typing accuracy of the entries.
- Group related terms to ensure completeness of coverage for a topic at multiple access points.
- Ensure through appropriate consolidation of entries that the index is as easy as possible to scan.
- Ensure through appropriate breakdown of main headings into subentries that enough information is given to speed the user’s search.
- Ensure locator accuracy.
- Check the syntax for embedded index tags.
- Indexers should be competent in the use of the following tools:
- Professional indexing software
- Publishing references and style guides, such as the Chicago Manual of Style
- Specific or specialized style guides used by clients
- Other indexing resources such as regular and biographical dictionaries
- Online resources for their specific subject matter.