Indexing methods

Following on from my previous post, there are four main ways of preparing an index, none of them ideal.

All that you need for the first method are the final proofs and maybe some paper. For the second you need a PDF file of the proofs. The last two methods require that you have a single text file generated from the typeset proofs (or, if you are brave, from the edited files delivered to the typesetter). Saved as a MS Word file, this must then be paginated to match the typeset proofs by playing with the font size and/or inserting hard page breaks. (The file need not be pretty; it simply needs to have the page breaks – every single one of them – at the same place as in the typeset proofs.)

  • The traditional method is that, while you proof-read the text, at the same time you prepare a manual index, recording the entries with highlights or notes in the proofs, or keyed immediately into a text document.
  • A modern variation on this method (which I personally favour) is to prepare the outline of the index (minus page numbers) beforehand and then fill in the page numbers by searching on a single PDF file of the book. Acrobat’s search functions are very useful here and of course the text you are working with is the real paginated book (I find that psychologically useful).
  • The mark-up method involves entering indexing tags in the book file itself. This can be as slow a task as the traditional method but, when completed, the resulting index is instantly generated and with luck should not need a lot of adjustment (e.g. to divide a large number of single-level entries into groups of two-level entries). Index generation can even be re-run repeatedly in conjunction with adjusting the tagged entries until the index is perfect.
  • The quick and dirty method commonly used is to create a concordance file (a list of words to be indexed) then let Word automatically generate the index from your book file. Though quick to create, this is not something I’d recommend; the resulting ‘index’ will be full of junk entries that you can spend days weeding out and it may lack entries that later you realise are necessary. In the end, then, this method may save no time at all.

Just what you index is another issue of course, likewise how you structure your index. These are topics for later posts (or alternatively you can take a look at our book; there’s a lot more on the subject there).

(NB: A substantially revised treatment of this subject can be found here.)


2 Responses to Indexing methods

  1. […] for choices in indexing method, see my next post. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Why index?Letting goWhen to start on the […]

  2. […] on the book production process, the first post of which is here. This is a complete rewrite of an earlier post on the same subject.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)When to start on the […]

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