General Question

LostInParadise's avatar

How are book indexes made?

Asked by LostInParadise (29137points) August 24th, 2016
7 responses
“Great Question” (8points)

Having a well constructed index in the back of the book can be very useful to the reader, but it seems like it would be really tedious to put together. Do writers make their own indexes or are there people who do it for them? It seems that it would be helpful to have the aid of a computer to track down all the page references for a given term.

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LuckyGuy's avatar

There are many options for generating an index. Paid software like Cindex for ~$500, services that do it for you for $100–200, or free software.

You can download this free indexer PDF Index Generator . I have not used it so let us know how it works.

In all cases, you will need to read through and make sure it gets what you want and reports only the important key words.

LostInParadise's avatar

@LuckyGuy , I have not written a book. I was just curious as to how they are indexed.

elbanditoroso's avatar

In almost all cases they outsource / hire it out to professional indexers. I have done two myself.

The automated way is cheaper but considerably poorer quality.

When I did my projects, I did it on 3×5 index cards which made creating the terms and managing them simpler.

forestGeek's avatar

If the book layout is done in Adobe Indesign, there is an automated indexing feature in which you can place index tags on words of phrases you want to include in the index. This can still be pretty tedious in a bigger book, or where you have a lot of index references.

There are some other tricks which can be used to automate an index in Indesign. A script written in VBScript, Javascript or Applescript, to find instances of words in a list and place index tags for each. If you don’t know programming, there is another way to do this using find/replace and InDesign’s TOC feature.

Jeruba's avatar

This answer pertains to the creation of index entries and not to the mechanics of turning them into elements in a word processing or page composition program that will automatically generate an index. (Generated indexes still need to be checked by a human being.)

Some authors do their own indexing, some can’t or won’t, and some publishers hire their own indexer anyway even if the author has presented an index with the manuscript.

I’ve done indexing professionally as an adjunct to editing jobs. I actually enjoyed doing it, although some of my editorial colleagues thought that was nuts. I guess it takes a certain kind of mind.

You have to work to a set of guidelines, either given you by the publisher or adopted by you; for example:

• How deep do you want to go? Will it be thorough and comprehensive or just a light culling of major topics?
• How many levels of topics and subtopics will you allow? Two is typical; four is really deep, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than that.
• Will you permit cross-references? If so, how will you handle them? What about “see also”?
• Are names really important in your field? (Is everybody in your field going to want to look and see if their name is mentioned?)

Some considerations include how scholarly the book is and how many levels of heads it has. An index can’t just be an alphabetized TOC. Is there a bibliography? Is there a glossary? Are there notes or chapter notes? Do you have a rule of thumb to follow, such as one page of index for every ten pages of text? every fifty?

One of the things I routinely asked myself while going through the text was “When this is the piece of information I want, what am I going to be looking up?” It isn’t always the same term or the same form of the term that appears in the particular passage of text; maybe instead there’s an umbrella concept—or a term used as an alternative to another term—that should apply to all related entries.

It’s not just about terms, and you probably don’t want a page reference for every use of a given term. That’s part of what the human editor looks for.

There are style questions to decide, such as use of punctuation, display of ranges of numbers, use of capitalization, and treatment of acronyms and their expansions. Also be sure which rules of alphabetizing you’re following: word by word or letter by letter. Does “fishing” come before or after “fish sticks”? Whichever rule you use, follow it consistently.

I’ve done indexing directly on page proofs with a pencil and a highlighter. In a workplace setting where someone else is creating the entries and inputting the tokens, writing on the page proofs lets the inputter know where the tokens go.

How this may all have changed with the technology in the last eight or ten years, I don’t know, but the logic ought to be about the same.

Even now, I often annotate indexes as I’m reading. The same question—when I want to find this part, what will I be looking up?—often yields nothing, and so I pencil it in.

CWOTUS's avatar

Microsoft Word has an index feature / function. I haven’t used it, so I can’t say how well or poorly it works, but I somewhat understand the concept. (I use Word’s Table of Contents functionality pretty regularly, and I think that the indexing works on a similar process of having tagged words and concepts that get collected in one alphabetized list, with options for controlling the appearance of the index as to number of columns, indenting, fonts and so forth.)

LostInParadise's avatar

@jeruba, I suspected that, as you indicate, there is as much art as there is science in putting together an index. I think it will be a while before computers can replace the best human indexers.

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