Cheryl Lemmens - Indexing and Editorial Services
Book Indexing • Web Site Indexing • Editing
Book Indexing: Introduction
"The work was not indexed — a serious defect, for which the ostensible editor should be taken to task, as this omission has made consultation of the wonderful book difficult and tedious ... There ought to be a law against indexless books, with heavy penalty."
– Elliott Coues, Bibliographical Introduction, The History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1893)
Most of us probably take back-of-the-book indexing for granted until we find that one book with a bad index incomplete, inaccurate, or both.
Indexing is a demanding profession that requires skill and patience meticulous attention to detail, an organizational mindset, and the ability not only to see the "big picture," but to break it down into smaller, usable pieces that can be read and understood by the user. Peter Farrell puts it succinctly:
A good index is a minor work of art but it is also the product of clear thought and meticulous care.1
According to the accepted definition (from the British indexing standard, BS3700:1988), an index is "a systematic arrangement of entries designed to enable users to locate information in a document."
The operative word here is "systematic" main entries are arranged in a set order, usually alphabetic. Alphabetization, however, is just one component of a good index. At the level immediately below the main entries are the subentries the identification of much of the information in a book. Good term selection is vital to the usability of an index; if subentries are worded awkwardly, or in a way the reader would be less likely to look up, the index won't do its job.
Where to learn more about book indexing
1Peter Farrell, quoted in "Frequently Asked Questions About Indexing," by Larry Harrison and L. Pilar Wyman, in Starting an Indexing Business, 3rd ed., ed. Enid L. Zafran (Medford, NJ: Information Today, in association with the American Society of Indexers, 1998), 38.
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