Formatting your index

In addition to structuring your index in terms of hierarchy and internal structure (as discussed in my previous post), you will also need to format and fine-tune your index. Although each publisher may have a different style, the following pointers are accepted by most. And, to illustrate my points, let’s revisit the example used in my last post.

English
xxxxacademic standard
xxxxquality
xxxxtranslation
xxxxUS/UK
xxxxsee also Cultural Issues; Language
[…]
Language
xxxxcorrect usage/spelling
xxxxplain English
xxxxtools. See Language tools
xxxxsee also English; Presentation; Style
Language tools
xxxxreference works
xxxxspell checkers
xxxxsee also Language

Text layout and format

Although your typeset index may appear in two (or even three) columns, make everyone’s life simpler: prepare your index in a single column, each entry/sub-entry comprising a separate paragraph.

Note that index entries are flush left and sub-entries are indented. The proper way to do this is by assigning paragraph styles to the different entry types (preferably just ‘Index-1’ and ‘Index-2’). Alternatively, do everything in ‘Normal’ and tab indent your sub-entries.

In fact, your publisher may have a preference on whether sub-entries should be indented below their main entry or run as continuous text. Certainly, the former is easier to read, but space limitations may force adoption of the latter, more condensed arrangement. That shouldn’t be your decision to make, however. Best that (as recommended above) you stick to separate paragraphs for each entry/sub-entry and then indenting of sub-entries; this is cleaner, simpler and quicker.

Note that See and See also in cross-references should be italicized but otherwise keep any formatting to a minimum – but be consistent (see below).

Ordering

Publishers vary somewhat in their usage here but the generally accepted rules are as follows. Order your index alphabetically, numbers coming before ‘A’. With sub-entries, ignore any initial pronouns, prepositions and the like (for instance, in an entry for ‘slave trade’, the sub-entry ‘high tide of’ comes after ‘in African records’ but before ‘as understood in 18th century’ – alphabetizing on ‘African’, ‘high’ and ‘understood’).

Consistency

Remember that your index is part of your book and as such your entries must appear in the index in the same form as in the body text (e.g. upper vs lower case and use of italics). Likewise, the page numbering should follow the same convention as the rest of your book. If page ranges are expressed as ‘123–126’ in the body text and references, then they should be expressed the same way in the index (and not, say, as ‘123–6’ or ‘123–26’).

Junk entries

Any entry or sub-entry that has more than about 15 associated page references is a junk entry, i.e. it spans such an extent of material that it is useless for searching purposes. Abandon it, or break it up.

Cross-references

Something that can really make an index useful is a judicious number of cross-references (as discussed in my last post). In addition, if a term appears in two forms in your book (such as ‘International Monetary Fund’ and ‘IMF’), let one index entry simply refer readers to the other entry. Use your common sense, however. Sometimes (especially for minor entries with few page references) it is better to repeat an index element under both entry names rather than to refer the reader from one entry to the other.

Now all that remains is to finalize your index, the subject of my next post.

(Post #10 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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