A professional indexer understands how to help a reader find the information they need.
Indexing is both an art and a science. Good indexing balances the rules that need to be followed, such as style guides and grammar, with subjective decision-making in term selection and arrangement. The concept of indexing consistency deals with the creative aspects of the indexing process, and it is a key component in understanding the construction of indexes.
Indexing consistency can refer to either interindexer consistency (a comparison of the work of two or more different indexers) or intraindexer consistency (a comparison of the work of the same indexer at different times). The subjective nature of choosing index terms will inevitably result in discrepancies. Indexing consistency can be considered a subset of editorial consistency.
For an in-depth look at interindexer consistency with side-by-side examples of indexes created by two different veteran indexers, check out Inside Indexing: The Decision-Making Process by Sherry Smith and Kari Kells.
“Librarians and educators review indexes when evaluating whether to acquire or adopt books.”
– American Society for Indexing
The indexing process often reveals errors in the text, but did you know that indexes can also help identify related terms? That is if the words are spelled in reverse! Check out this video on the Backward Index, created at Merriam-Webster during the 1930s-70s.
S.R. Ranganathan’s The Five Laws of Library Science describes his five precepts for serving the needs of readers. A good index will follow these rules for ensuring usability.
Indexes are important tools that connect books to readers. An index needs to be sensitive to the needs of the reader and to the context in which it is written.
Salmon Bay Indexing is proud to announce its 15th year of providing professional indexing and taxonomy consultation services.
I founded Salmon Bay indexing while I was pursuing my MLIS degree at the Information School at the University of Washington. The tech boom was in full swing, and people were interacting with information in new, rapidly changing ways. I knew I wanted to combine my love of books with my love of technology, but was not yet sure how that would look.
In 2002, I attended a chapter meeting of the American Society for Indexing. A couple of years earlier, I had edited a book but was stumped when it came time to include an index, so I decided to omit it. It had always bugged me. By this time, I had several years of experience developing content management processes and tools. I was now interested in ways to better organize information. As I studied the development of controlled vocabularies, I saw how organizing bibliographic data and working with content publishers could be applied to the business of indexing.
At this time, the publishing industry was seeing a rise in the popularity of e-books. The Information Age was here. Daniel Pink had just published Free Agent Nation, and the gig economy was beginning to take shape. Here was an opportunity to combine books, technology, and the DIY ethic. Against the advice of my academic advisor, I founded Salmon Bay Indexing.
My first client was an independent publisher with a growing catalog of environmental policy titles. More jobs followed as my name got passed around to other editors. I was working in a library and going to school during the day and indexing books in the evenings. In my previous e-commerce experience, I saw how taxonomies were designed and implemented to enhance the customer experience. In my indexing work, I applied these same concepts to benefit the reader. The publisher that gave me my first job has since morphed into an imprint of a large publishing house but remains one of my best clients.
Over the past fifteen years, Salmon Bay Indexing has worked with a network of information professionals to provide editorial services, taxonomy development and implementation, database indexing and embedded indexing to clients. I continue to work in all subject areas, with a particular interest in working with publishers of content related to social justice and environmental issues. I have a wide range of clients based in the US and the UK that include academic presses, indie publishers, multinational corporations, non-profits and self-publishing authors. As a way to give back and improve our world, I do pro bono work for selected non-profits.
A passing mention is any occurrence of a term that does not accompany any substantive discussion of that term. An example of this would be a table that includes a list of terms without any further discussion or description of the terms:
Table 6: Common Herbs
In this case, an index should only include an entry for “herbs” or “herbs, common” depending on the context of the discussion on herbs. To include entries for each herb would clutter the index and provide no useful information to the reader once they located the page referenced. If more information is provided, it may be useful to the reader for this material to be indexed:
Table 7: Uses for Common Herbs
Basil – Can be used dried or fresh in salads and sauces.
Oregano – Can be used dried or fresh. Often used in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine.
Parsley – Can be used dried or fresh. Often used as a garnish.
Thyme – Often used dried, this distinct herb is a staple in marinara sauce.
In this case, the index might include entries for each herb, such as “basil, common uses,” or “herbs, uses” or “herbs” depending on the text.
Passing mentions can occur anywhere in the text:
“The cuisine of southern Italy often incorporates aromatic herbs such as basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme, as well as tomatoes, fresh pasta, and seafood.”
Here, an index might include an entry such as “southern Italy, cuisine of.” Entries for the individual ingredients would not provide any useful information to the reader.
Passing mentions should never be included in the index.
One of the challenges indexers face is to determine what size an index needs to be in order to best serve the reader. Occasionally there will be limitations on the space available for an index, that are usually related to the number of signatures needed during the production process, but for the most part, indexers are responsible for determining index length.
Like all good editing, indexing requires a careful balance of “what is left in” versus “what is left out.” We are all familiar with information overload. Too much irrelevant information can obscure the important stuff. Nonessential entries in an index can lead the reader on a wild goose chase through the text, which is both frustrating and time-consuming.
A good indexer will provide enough information to get the reader where they need to go in the text without cluttering up the index with entries that do not provide useful information.
Like all good things, indexing can be overdone. It important to determine the appropriate depth of indexing for a book. Some texts can be indexed lightly and serve the reader, whereas other texts require more in-depth indexing.
For example, a text that presents a series of case studies that all support the same research would include entries related to the research subject and the case studies would be indexes with enough information to the get the reader to where they need to go in the text. A book containing case studies about physical therapy would not delve too deeply into the specific details of the subject in the case studies.
For example, a case study might include this sentence: “Marsha, a middle school student in Oakridge, IL, complained of pain in her wrists while performing repetitive tasks.” Examples of appropriate main headings would be “adolescents,” “wrist pain,” and “repetitive takes.” Main headings related to “middle school” or “Illinois” would not be appropriate.
A skilled indexer will make the best determination for the length of an index, based on a thorough evaluation of the text with the consideration of its intended audience and will avoid bulking up an index with entries that are not related to the metatopic of a text.
Double-posting is a technique used to provide multiple access points to the same information. Different readers might search for the same information using different terminology, so it is important to consider all possible variations of the main heading and provide an access point for each.
Some common uses for double-posting are the treatment of acronyms, initialisms, and abbreviations, creating entries for synonymous terms and main headings that begin with numerals.
Acronyms, initialisms, and abbreviations should be double-posted when both main headings would not appear adjacent to each other in the index.
Depending on the size of the index, these main headings may appear several lines apart:
CAD (Computer-Aided Design)
Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
Whereas, the following main headings may appear closer together:
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Cross-references, if not used carefully, can clutter up an index and create extra work for the reader.
Double-posting is also used to eliminate cross-references by creating main headings for synonymous terms.
Without double-posting, a reader must flip to the preferred term ‘vehicles.’
automobiles see vehicles
cars see vehicles
trucks see vehicles
By double-posting this locator, a reader can go directly to the information they are seeking.
Numerals that appear at the beginning of the main heading require a more subtle use of double-posting. Recently a new client asked the following question,
“You list “1% for the Planet” both as its own section (I’d assume because it starts with a number) and at the bottom of the “O” section. What is the reason for it being in the O list?”
The answer is that the main heading was double-posted under “O” for readers who might be searing for “One Percent.”
The [hide text] feature of the indexing software is used to correctly sort the entry as if it had been spelled out.
1% for the Planet
[one]1% for the Planet
One of the Five Laws of Library Science is “Save the time of the reader.” By using indexing best practices such as double-posting, an indexer provides quick and easy access to information.
An index can often give a far clearer glimpse of a book’s spirit than the blurb-writers or critics are able to do.
– Harold Macmillan
The Society of Indexers (UK) has declared March 30 as National Indexing Day in honor of its 60th anniversary.
In his article, “In our Google era, indexers are the unsung heroes of the publishing world” Sam Leith explains the art of indexing and how a professional indexer adds value (and sometimes humor) to the back of the book.