Why does a book need an index?
When busy readers want to cite facts or analysis from a book, they need to go straight to the relevant information. The author can't be there to find the pages for them. Instead, a good index stands in as the author's proxy, doing just what he would do if he could help the reader himself:
Why hire a professional indexer?
Authors know their books better than anyone else, but that doesn't mean they can write the most effective indexes. Here's why every fine book deserves a professionally-written index:
Don't computers index texts automatically these days?
Computers assist people in all types of writing, including indexing. A computer can produce a list of terms and all the pages where they are found (a concordance) but it can't perform the concentrated conceptual processing required to write a useful subject index. It can't distinguish a meaty 10-page discussion from the mere appearance of a keyword on ten successive pages. The computer is hopelessly fooled if a topic is discussed without mentioning the keyword it has been told to look for. Effective indexing requires human thought.
Couldn't an author produce an index using indexing modules in Word or Pagemaker?
To the unwary, these "embedded indexing modules" seem to promise simple creation of an index before pagination is final. However, producing a usable index with embedded indexing is much more difficult than working with dedicated indexing software. This is because the index is scattered (embedded) throughout the document. About half the work of writing an effective index is editing, and editing an embedded index is like revising a document whose sentences are all written on separate sheets of paper and scattered around the office!
Embedded indexing is sometimes useful, for example, if a technical manual is to be slightly revised every year. In such cases, most professional indexers produce embedded indexes by completing the index using dedicated indexing software and then embedding the final entries in the document.
For more discussion about indexes and indexing,
visit the website of the
American Society of Indexers.
© 2003 Judith L. Anderson. All Rights Reserved. Last updated 9 December, 2008.