Gravett, Amron. “The Key to Indexing,” Women Writing the West blog, February 12, 2014.
Are you a nonfiction author tasked with creating an index for your soon-to-be published book? These five FAQs will help you understand what an index is, why you need one, and help you with your next steps in the process.
1. What is an index?
“An index is a structured sequence—resulting from a thorough and complete analysis of text—of synthesized access points to all the information contained in the text. The structured arrangement of the index enables users to locate information efficiently.” (Mulvany, Indexing Books, 8). In traditional publishing, an index is found in the back of a nonfiction book. A good index is accurate, concise and provides complete coverage of the book’s information. The structure of the index is created by a coherent web of synonyms, main and subheadings, double postings, and cross-references.
2. Do I really need an index?
Absolutely. If you are publishing a nonfiction book (such as a biography, history, memoir or reference book) without an index, then your book lacks one of the most important reference and sales tools available. A nonfiction reader is looking for information. It is true that a majority of nonfiction readers will browse the index before deciding whether they want to buy the book. They will look for key ideas, persons, topics, etc., that interest them and if there is no index, they will not be able to do this and thus will reconsider buying the book.
3. Do authors index their own books?
Ideally, no. Although the author is the expert on their topic, the indexer reads the manuscript with reader’s eyes understanding information architecture, retrieval techniques, and indexing standards. An index is created using a marriage of the author’s and the reader’s language.
4. Does an indexer read the whole book?
Absolutely. A quality index cannot be created without a thorough reading. I usually do a word by word reading the first pass while I create the initial draft of the index. Then, I speed read the manuscript once or twice, during the editing phase to create the final index. This ensures that I have not missed any of the important information or connections that are made throughout the manuscript.
5. How do I find a professional indexer?
One of the best and easiest tools for locating a professional indexer is to search the American Society for Indexing, Indexer Locator. Other professional organizations that profile indexers include: Editorial Freelancers Association Find a Freelancer,
Rocky Mountain Publishing Professionals Guild Directory, Society for Technical Communication Job Bank.
Fun fact: The plural form of index is indexes, not indices. For more information, go to: http://www.asindexing.org
Amron Gravett is a professional indexer, librarian, member of Women Writing the West and this year’s WILLA Coordinator for Scholarly Nonfiction.