Why index?

An index may be unassuming, loitering at the end of your book with not a lot to say for itself. It is also one of the last things to be made, often under great time pressure. So why bother?

There are many reasons to index your book, not least a wee clause in your contract, something like this:

No, but seriously, if yours is an academic book then really an index is unavoidable for the following reasons:

  • It is useful. The index is perhaps the most-used pathway to searching a book, accessed far more times than the table of contents.
  • The index provides an alphabetic mind map of the contents. It is, then, an intellectual construct, a key part of the scholarly insight that you are offering your readers. This can also benefit you, the writer (see below).
  • It has a direct impact on sales. Library purchasing decisions can be influenced by the presence or absence of an index. Years ago, I was shocked to hear an acquisitions librarian go through his checklist for deciding if a book would be bought. The first question was, ‘Is there an index?’

In addition, if it is you who will be doing the indexing (something that I discuss in my next post and that the rest of the posts in this indexing thread assume), then the act of creating the mind map referred to above gives you a marvellous insight into the completeness of your study. Are there, for instance, any gaps in the information that shouldn’t be there? (You can know a subject so well that you forget to make all pertinent details clear to your readers.)

Ah, but we have a problem here. If it is only now that you realise you have failed to explain the background of this or the meaning of that, isn’t it too late? Well, yes, it is if you are only starting work on your index just days before the book goes to press. Arguably, you should start earlier (something that I explore further in a post later this week).

To conclude, I think the issue is quite clear. Publishing a scholarly volume without an index is a bit like revealing a new work of art in a gallery where the blinds are pulled down and the lights are turned off. It just won’t do.

Time, then, to get started with your index.

(Post #2 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

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3 Responses to Why index?

  1. […] People like Anthony cost money, you cannot be sure you are hiring a good indexer, and they may not be available when you need them. Moreover, an outside indexer has no hope of ever knowing your book as intimately as you do. And, if it is you to do the index, then you can make an early start and refine the index as editing and typesetting progress. It has the added advantage that you can work with the mind-map described in my previous post. […]

  2. […] Why index? « GETTING PUBLISHED Says: 7 March 2010 at 4:53 am | Reply […]

  3. […] entry comprising a term and a page reference. (On a more sophisticated level, as described in an earlier post and in much greater detail in my next, an index is also a mind-map.) So what is holding up your […]

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