I know. You (writer about to publish a non-fiction book of more than 100 pages) are so tired of looking at your text over and over, assessing editing changes, tweaking content; the very last thing you may want to do is to build an index.
First choice should be to hire a professional indexer (we can, of course, help you with that :)), but this is not a pocket-change proposition. It actually takes more time to build the separate entity called the index than to do a copyediting or proofreading pass on your book, so it also costs more. Many authors consider this a worthy investment, but sometimes, especially for self-publishing authors, the cost may be prohibitive.
Indexing involves a certain mindset that I have found is not natural for most people. It’s always more than just making an outline of the book’s topical structure. It took most of us at PI six months or more of coursework and a natural gift for indexing mind (more here on that) to begin building useful indexes, so, please keep this in mind. You may be able to build a competent index from the author’s perspective, but it will still be a beginner’s job.
So, here we are. Either your publisher requires an index and doesn’t want to pay for it (situation found most often with scholarly presses), or you really think an index would be useful, but you don’t have the capital (and do have the time). How to approach this task and make something competent out of it? We figured that in the interest of better quality indexes overall, we’d come up with a shortish checklist of the basics and a couple of resources for you to make your own index, without hitting you with all the details that a professional indexer would spend time learning.
The Chicago Manual of Style. No, you don’t have to shell out $50 for the whole thing. You can find just the indexing chapter here. A worthy investment. If you are feeling ambitious, you can also use Nancy Mulvany’s Indexing Books. Fine primer from a great indexer.
No, you don’t need to use index cards, although they do work. 😉 Things go a bit faster these days with computer software. Microsoft Word will do, although it may be easier to sort your entries by putting them in Excel (main headings in one column, subheadings in another). You can sort paragraphs in Word, and rows and columns in Excel to get things in approximately the right alphabetical order.
Index entries are made up of three elements: main headings, subheadings, and locators (usually page numbers). Sometimes a cross-reference is used instead of a page number (e.g., “See also” or “See“) if there’s too much information on a topic or subtopic to fit it in one place or if more related information can be found elsewhere at another main heading.
Example of a regular entry with subentries:
essay questions, 41–48
multiple-choice questions, 34–40
timing of, 54–55
Examples of cross-references:
automobiles. See cars
formatting (see also alignment; styles)
action buttons, 30
backgrounds, 15–18, 26–27
charts, 12–15, 19
data in cells, 7–10
social studies curriculum, 59, 105–108. See also history
Refer to the Chicago Manual for the different variations on style and layout. Cross-references can be put in different places in the entry and formatted in different ways, as you can see from the examples above. Pick a style and just be consistent with it. Note that the dash between page numbers in a range is not a simple hyphen, but an en dash. Look it up in your symbols list—there are keyboard shortcuts available for both Windows and Mac operating systems.
That’ll do for now. Next time, we’ll get into the process of crafting entries from your text.