The short answer is that every index is a custom job.
I’m currently teaching one of my month-long book indexing overviews at the Library Juice Academy, and one of the first things my students notice when I ask them to evaluate two published indexes from their own point of view is that there are so many variations in layout and approach and detail. They ask a lot of questions because they are trying to find a set of standard rules for indexing (it’s easier on the brain). And there aren’t any.
Well, there are some important best practice approaches for indexing all kinds of books. Check out the chapter on indexing in the Chicago Manual of Style, or Nancy Mulvany’s Indexing Books, or to get a real in-depth experience of practicing different indexing practices, look into the American Society for Indexing’s training course.
But mostly, it’s about making the index work with the publisher’s chosen style options and the specific text at hand. Indexing scholarly books is different from indexing how-to books. And cookbooks are a whole other specialty. Then there are legal and medical books, which require a lot more subject expertise than most others. So much about choices on what terms to index and how to organize them will be customized.
This custom-job thing makes our work more interesting, but one has to maintain a nimble mind and keep track of client preferences to produce the index that is desired.
Just for fun, the following are some questions I normally get from students as they look at indexes from different books and some of the reasoning behind the different options and practices:
Why do some indexes have the subheadings laid out individually with a line for each one, and some indexes have the subheadings running off the main headings in little paragraphs?
It’s a space thing. Most users and indexers will tell you that the indented/line-by-line layout is much easier to scan when looking for terms. You will see this style in most how-to books, technical manuals, and science books. Long ago, though, many university presses in particular got in the habit of smushing all the subheadings into little paragraphs in order to save some space in the index and money on printing. And universities are reluctant to change long-standing tradition. So, we have two basic layouts.
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
Why do some indexes have little letters at the beginnings of alphabetical groups, and some do not?
Again, it’s a preference that seems to separate the how-to/tech manual folks from the scholarly (and sometimes trade book) folks. And for the same reasons as the previous layout preference. No separate letter equals less space taken up by the index. Everyone leaves a space between alphabetical groups, mind you, but the how-to/tech manual folks seem more inclined to help users see the main divisions of the index by leaving the letters in.
b trust. See credit shelter trust
back-end ratio. See debt-to-income ratio
back-end sales charge, open-end mutual fund, 191
C corporation, 299
C trust. See qualified terminable interest property trust
call option, 193
callable bond, 189
callable preferred stock, 190
Why do some indexes have little parenthetical terms next to titles of works (e.g., newspaper, journal, film, books), and why do the books have the authors’ last names after the title?
It’s that customized job thing. Keep in mind that we as indexers are trying to provide both a clear as well as concise idea of where the terms or names we choose can be found in the text. With titles of works, we need to make it clear who created it (mostly as a courtesy/tradition), if the author mentions this (you don’t have to go look them all up) or be able to keep periodicals straight, especially if there are lots of them with similar names. Also, again if there are a number of them, delineating which titles are for television shows or films or plays can be a good idea. But if there aren’t very many titles of works, we just fall back on common sense and stick to acknowledging authors of books with their last names, and only using other explanatory parentheticals if there’s more than one version of a title (e.g, a film vs. play version of a work with the same name).
The Crock of Gold (Stephens)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (TV show)
Ed Sullivan Show (TV show)
Goodbye, Columbus (Roth)
I’ve Got a Secret (TV show)
New York Times (newspaper)
“Over the Rainbow” (Arlen and Harburg)
The Wizard of Oz (film)
I would love to hear from you if you have a specific question on indexing style choices that you’ve noticed in using indexes. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PI Pick of the Week
This article on integrating print and digital versions of documents sounds like a great way to make both platforms relevant well into the future. I hope some coders and publishers are paying attention to Joe Wikert’s latest article here.