1What makes a good index? What makes a bad one? Why don’t we just use searches to find what we want in books or eBooks?

An index is like the wrapping paper to a special present.The index reflects what’s inside the book, just like wrapping paper might reflect the kind of gift inside the box.

What is the book about? How does the author link specific concepts and contents? A good index shows you what’s inside the book and helps you find the exact concept and contents you are looking for.

Terms

In a book about typewriters, one reader might look up the term “keys”, while another the term “buttons”. It is the indexer’s job to think like readers and guide them to the information they are looking for.

Locators (page numbers)

It’s also important that the reader doesn’t have to look through too many pages to find the exact information they want. This can play out when there are too many locators for a term.

Here’s an example:

As a cookbook writer, I was interested in indexes but never did one. This didn’t stop me from constructing my own, and I was so happy do it. But I actually didn’t know HOW to do an index.

Here’s what my entry on chocolate looked like:

chocolate, 8, 15-17, 22-23, 25, 27, 33, 36, 39, 42, 44, 47, 48, 56, 58, 69, 73

I thought it would help people easily find a chocolate recipe. But with so many locators, the reader would get tired out!

A term should probably only have 10 locators or less to be helpful for a reader. This is usually done by breaking up a term into more specific ideas. I could have made the entry look more like this:

chocolate

in brownies 25, 33, 36, 47

in candy 44, 48, 58

chips 22-23, 33, 39, 44, 48, 56, 73

in cookies 27, 42, 56, 73

explanation 8

white chocolate 15-17, 25, 69

You can see how much easier that entry is to use. To see my updated, new and improved index for my cookbook click here.

The Search Function

eReaders, PDFs and Word documents all have search functions. These come in very handy when searching for specific terms. But the functions fail when dealing with concepts. Currently, no search function will direct you to a concept. Computers don’t understand the concept of a concept!

Here is an example:

Back when typewriters were first invented, some people thought the art of handwriting would die out. An indexer could identify this concept as “loss of handwriting skills”. (It might be listed in the index as “handwriting, loss of skills”.)

Using the search function, a reader could look up “handwriting” and search through every instance of the word. That in itself would be rather tedious, because there would no doubt be many references to “handwriting”, especially at the beginning of a book on typewriters.

But where the reader really loses out would be in a passage that speaks of an angry calligrapher who sabotages a typewriter production plant. This indeed would part of the concept “loss of handwriting skills,” but since the word “handwriting” is not in the passage, the reader would miss this crucial part in the book.

Have any questions about indexing? Send me a message!

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