Professional Indexes

One of the keys to a successful nonfiction book is the index. Without a well-organized index, access to the information in a book is jeopardized. Incomplete indexes can be misleading when potential purchasers conclude that the information they are seeking is not included in the book. A book may be rejected by librarians or university professors if they judge an index to be incomplete, poorly organized or mediocre.

The value of a good book index is ultimately measured in book sales, which means dollars and cents.

Don’t leave your book’s index to chance – hire a professional indexer.

What is an index?

An index is “a systematic guide designed to indicate topics or features of documents in order to facilitate retrieval of documents or parts of documents” (National Information Standards Organization)

An index is not a list of words or an outline, or a concordance. Indexes guide readers to information by gathering scattered references and relationships, identifying concepts, using the authors wording and creating alternatives and cross-references allowing readers from a variety of backgrounds to locate key words and concepts.

Why do I need a professional indexer?

  • A professional indexer is specially trained in the art as well as the science of indexing.
  • A professional indexer is able to synthesize the author’s important information into a well-organized list so readers can find the information easily and quickly.
  • A professional indexer is experienced working with publishers requirements and is able to meeting tight deadlines.

…. 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 do better to enlist the aid of a professional indexer.

Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition

Some indexers are self-taught, have trained with a mentor or apprenticeship program, or taken a professional index course. I acquired my formal training through the Basic Indexing course offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (now the Graduate School), and Indexing Boot Camp, which lead to a mentorship with Indexing Partners of Delaware. Additionally, I regularly attend local and national workshops as an on-going effort to enhance my professional education

Isn’t there software that can automatically create an index?

There are computer programs on the market today that can create a concordance, which is an unanalyzed list of words or phrases which appear in a book. But this is not an index and does not provide the reader with insight and analysis that a human provides. An index also provides additional access points and cross-references that enhance the user experience. A typical concordance will have a very long list of page reference but will not give the use any context as to which of these references is pertinent to the query. As an example, suppose you do a Google search on a topic and get 500 hits. How many of these will you actually look up? If you don’t find what you are looking for in a few clicks you will most likely give up the search. Similarly, with a concordance if you have 30 page reference you might look up the first few and then give up and conclude that what you are looking for is not in the book.

Indexers do use dedicated indexing software to assist them in organizing the index. This is similar to an author using a word processing program to write a book.