Saturday, September 13, 2008

Indexing your Writing

The Society of Indexers

The Society produces an annual listing of members and the Registrar will provide advice and suggest names of suitable indexers to help authors. The Society has an open learning training course, which can be purchased by non-members and there are self administered tests available so that anyone can assess their need to study the core subject Units that make the training course.'Indexers Available' is distributed free to publishers. Dealing with an indexer is an unusual experience for most authors and it is useful to have a checklist of your requirements such as key words or concepts that should be included, remember to ensure;
  • That the final format, page length etc, are known to the indexer
  • remember Indexers do not proof-read
  • At which stage in the process the index will be created, include the time spent indexing in the Production Plan
  • Ensure that you have a contract with the Indexer so that both parties clearly understand what is required, when it is required, how it is to be produced and for how much.

An index is a detailed guide to the information and ideas in a document. There is a British Standard which defines an index as; 'A systematic arrangement of entries designed to enable users to locate information in a document'

An index enables enquirers to find information they need or to recall half-remembered passages. It does so by providing search terms in an appropriately organised list. The terms may be single words, phrases, abbreviations, acronyms, dates, names, or any other indexable elements or concepts. The index leads to specific locations in the document, using the numbers (or other indicators) of pages, columns, sections, frames, figures, tables, paragraphs, lines of other components.

An index differs from a catalogue, which is a record of documents held in a particular collection, such as a library. A catalogue may require an index, for example to guide searchers from subject words to class numbers.A document may have one index in which all classes of headings are interfiled (as in most textbooks) or separate indexes for different classes of heading (as in a directory).All good indexes need to be clear, concise, comprehensive and consistent. There are several good reasons why an index should be included in a non-fiction text; libraries often will not buy books without an index; researchers find an index essential; browsers in bookshops (and they often buy on impulse) will use an index to explore the book and often base their decisions on what they find; finally, readers prefer books with good indexes as they can find their way around the book.Authors sometimes compile their own indexes but do so effectively only if they combine their subject knowledge with the skills of an index compiler, who requires:
  • the ability to analyse the text on behalf of a wide range of users who may want to;
  • locate information on a particular topica good knowledge of the subject matter
    the ability to devise suitable terms expressing the concepts in the text concisely and precisely
  • ability to organise the entries in the index in the most appropriate and retrievable fashion
  • a passion for accuracy

Indexing training aims to impart skills in:

  • distinguishing the chief concepts contained in a document
  • devising the necessary index terms for those concepts
  • dealing with synonyms. homonyms, and related terms
  • assessing any need for multiple indexes to the document
  • distinguishing between major and minor references
  • indicating difference between references to text and illustrations
  • preparing copy to a high standard of accuracy in terms of spelling, word forms,
  • punctuation, order and structure of headings, subheadings and sub-subheadings.
  • presenting results in the physical form specified by the publisher

There are some computer programs available, and professional indexers will often use a form of database to allow easier sorting and classification of index information. Most are useful as supporting players to the human brain, a good, trained, indexer will produce a usable index - saving frustration and increasing the credibility of your book. Could be money well spent.

BSI Recommendations for the preparation of indexes to books, periodicals and other documents, London: British Standards Institution, 1988 (BS 3700:1988)

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