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  You are in: Home > Authors > Indexing  

What type of index?

How well a book is indexed is very important in terms of the reception it receives in journals and academic reviews. If a book is poorly indexed, the reader will find it difficult to locate the specific information they seek.

An efficient index will allow readers to:

(a) find out whether a book discusses a topic of particular interest;
(b) take the reader to that topic quickly;
(c) find topics they have already read about and perhaps wish to refresh in their minds;
(d) indicate to reviewers and possible buyers the range and depth of the book.

It is therefore important to consider what kind of reader will be most interested in the book before beginning to compile an index. Bear in mind that an index might be used only very occasionally – looking for a single specific entry, for example – or it can be used as an effective research tool, allowing students and researchers to scan a broad range of topics across the subject of the book. Will your readers want access to a large database of entries? What kind of entries will they be searching for – names and places? Or ideas and theories? Or both? This issue is dealt with in detail below.

If the author is also the indexer, the index can also represent the opportunity to educate the reader further, by making comparisons or juxtapositions that do not occur in the text.

Compiling an index

The Publisher is often asked to explain the best way forward in compiling an index. The Press values well prepared indexes highly and wishes to make two observations: (1) Do consider engaging a freelance indexer, for which the Press will obtain a cost estimate at your request; (2) If you are time constrained, especially at the time when proofs are due to arrive, it is a good idea to prepare a list of index entries in advance of the proofs – this means considering the principal items to index, main subject areas of the book, etc.

Before compiling an index, it is extremely worthwhile looking at indexes to books on similar subjects to your own. It is also worth looking up indexes to books that you recalled were helpful, and working out what was useful about them. It is vital that you keep in mind the readership level of your readers when in the process of compiling an index. Are they undergraduates, professionals, postgraduates? Specialists in a particular industry or subject? The complexity and level (e.g., number of sub-entries) of the index will be dictated by your readers’ needs. The focus of the book will also dictate the focus of the index.

Index style

There are two important aspects of index style that should be noted. First, ordinary type should be used for all page references, with bold an optional extra for principal page references. Second, italic should be used for the words “see”, “see unde”, “see also”, “compare” and “passim” in an index.

The index should follow the (US or UK) style adopted in the text. If US style, capitalize all main entries; if UK style, keep main entries lower case except for names and proper nouns. You will also need to decide whether the index style should be “run on” or “set out”. These and other style pointers are detailed in the two exemplar books detailed below.

There are two important provisos in submitting an index to the press: (1) include a comma between the index entry and the first page number – thus,

Miracles, 9, 13-16, 27, 134-7, 150-1

And (2), follow number concatenation as it is used in the main text. Press House Style of numbering is as the entry above.

How many entries?

An index should amount to between 3–5% of the length of the completed text. The agreed-upon page extent for the book will impose some kind of limit – although not definitive – on the length of the index you can have for your title. However, if you stick to the 3–5% rule you should end up with a decent length for the index. The Press editor will inform you if the index seems too sparse or overlong.

Which works to consult on index preparation?

Authors are advised to consult two works which have excellent sections on how to compile an index:

Indexes, pp. 183–201, from Judith Butcher, Copy-Editing: The Cambridge Handbook for Editors, Authors and Publishers, third edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)

Indexes, pp. 701–60, from The Chicago Manual of Style, fourteenth edition (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993)

Both books are usually to be found in all university and public libraries.

If you experience any difficulty in compiling the index, please contact your Press editor, who will be more than willing to assist you.


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