I teach a small introductory online course on indexing twice a year over at the Library Juice Academy. It’s always fun to see the students go through the first lesson, which has nothing to do with building their own indexes; I have them go find two books with indexes and describe what those indexes are like: what aspects are useful, what aspects seem to be less useful.
Most index users are pretty savvy about what works for them in an index, and of course my students, being mostly librarians, are even more astute at seeing how easy or hard it is to find information within the index.
One of the things that they always comment on if they see it, is the difference between the two basic index layouts: run-in/paragraph and indented/line-by-line. Here are examples of each so you can decide which one you think looks better for finding things:
Control, sense of: in adolescence, 95; assumptions about, 147; coping with illness, 36–37; as critical family issue, 30–31; fear of losing, 95,182, 202; with Parkinson’s disease, 353; in patient behavior, 258; physician’s need to maintain, 298–299; and power issues, 254; vs. sadness, 84
Control, sense of
assumptions about, 147
coping with illness, 36–37
critical family issue, 30–31
fear of losing, 95, 182, 202
Parkinson’s disease, 353
patient behavior, 258
physician’s need to maintain, 298–299
power issues, 254
I know, why on Earth would anyone choose the first one? The subheadings for the entry are so much easier to scan with the second one. Well, it’s all about space and tradition. Back in the halcyon days of traditional publishing, it seemed like a good idea to save on paper costs by squishing all the subheadings into a paragraph. Also, if you read through the first example, you’ll see more phrase-like wording, and the information does flow like paragraph reading, so it’s not as hard to read as it might look at first. That said, the indented/line-by-line version is certainly a quicker scan to find what you want under the main topic.
So, originally it was a marginal space save, this run-in format, but you know how traditions are, particularly with larger educational institutions and such. Although we now have ebooks and different ways to design books to save space, a number of traditional publishers, particularly university presses, still use the run-in format, and if you do any indexing yourself, you’ll be likely to “run-into” it and have to use it. On the other hand, if you have a technical manual or textbook to index, you’ll be much more likely to see the indented format in the publisher’s style guide or sample index.
Although the terms in the index may seem of primary importance in many respects, the layout is actually quite critical to usability. The index is like a map; you’re looking at the book from “above” the actual narrative text, so to speak, so the visual organization is just as important as the content itself.
Whenever I can, I do try to wean my clients off of the run-in/paragraph style to the indented/line-by-line style, but either way I’m just happy that my indexing software can switch between the two styles (with appropriate punctuation) with a simple setting change. Whew!
PI Picks of the Week
In other independent consultant news, my publishing services colleague in the far north of Scotland, Sara Donaldson has a great article here on networking methods that have worked for her. Her wry and substantive wisdom is always useful.
This article also reminded me that I received a message earlier this month from an author about indexing his latest book; turns out I’d indexed one for him ten years ago! And, yes, he still remembered my work and wanted to work with me again! So, doing a great job the first time and staying visible online turned out to be the way to get more work (eventually) in this case. One never knows…