One struggle I’ve noticed that beginning indexers working with traditional print books go through is the challenge of realizing that the most specific target they can give a user is the page number.
For some detail-oriented people who want (sometimes desperately!) to get the index user/reader to the term they’ve selected, over-indexing is a common problem. The indexer sees an overall topic on a page or pages, along with subtopics that go with it, all on the same page. In the interest of telling the user as much as possible in the index, they create an entry like this one:
Given that we don’t usually have unlimited space in indexes for print, and that the index user usually wants to get to the page in the book where the information they seek occurs, we indexers try to make sure our indexes are concise as well as complete.
Think about being an index user, someone who may or may not have read the book yet, who has access to the title and the table of contents, and needs the index to provide a quickly scannable list of main headings and subheadings that will lead them to the information they seek. Notice that I wrote “lead them to”; that’s not the same as necessarily providing all the information from a given page in one place in the index.
Just like the map doesn’t show us all the details of the coffee shop’s architecture and its offerings (Google Earth notwithstanding), the index doesn’t need to show all the details of what’s on a given page in a single index entry.
So, since the page is the most precise location we can give in a traditional index for print, a cleaner and easier to scan way to get the index user to information about all those achievement levels is to have an entry like this:
achievement levels, 33
Of course now you are asking, “What about those specific levels; aren’t they important? Now they are invisible!”
They may very well be important, and if so, let’s give them the status they are due in an alphabetical scan; let’s make them into main headings of their own (we’re assuming lots of other interesting topic entries separating all of these).
achievement levels, 33
advanced achievement level, 33
basic achievement level, 33
proficient achievement level, 33
world-class achievement level, 33
The index then becomes a mix of more general and more specific subject access points at main heading level,with subheadings used only for topics that have lots of subtopics scattered throughout the text, or long chunks of discussion (like a whole chapter), where a breakdown would be of some value.
This is our goal as indexers: to provide quick access to the page in the text where the desired information resides. We don’t have to take the user to the word itself (this is print, now), just to the page. And we don’t need to replicate the entire book’s information in the index; our tool is a map that simply points to where the information can be found.
So, sometimes we need to remind ourselves that in the interest of efficient access to information, that we need to remember to create the index as a map, and guide the index user accordingly.
PI Pick of the Week
Speaking of effective indexing, if you’d like to know more about how to build effective subheadings when they are needed, check out the American Society for Indexing’s (ASI’s) webinar on subheadings, hosted by exert indexer, Fred Leise, located here.