Indexing methods

As intimated in my previous post, there are different ways of preparing an index. I have identified four main methods, none of them ideal. These are the:

  • traditional method,
  • mapping method,
  • mark-up method, and
  • quick and dirty method.

Traditional method

The traditional method is that you prepare a manual index at the same time that you proof-read the text. There are several ways of doing this, by:

  • recording the entries on the proofs (highlighting text and/or making notes in the margins),
  • writing them down on index cards or several sheets of paper, or
  • keying them immediately into a text document.

This method is simple. All that you need are the final proofs and a means to record the entries. The last way has the virtue of being an all-in-one method whereas, with the two earlier ways, there is a second step – to transcribe the entries – but they are visually much easier to work with.

If you have prepared the coloured mind map described in my previous post, then you can quickly ‘transcribe’ its text highlights over to the proofs and thus save a bit of time.

Arguably, the traditional method of indexing gives the best results because it allows a really thorough job to be done; everything is there before your eyes. It is, however, a painstaking (read: painfully slow) approach best suited to tortoise personalities.

Mapping method

A modern variation on the traditional method is to prepare a skeleton of the index (minus page numbers) beforehand and then fill in the page numbers by searching on a single PDF file of the book. (Obviously, this method requires that you receive the proofs as a PDF, not just in hard copy.) 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).

This method can be done directly on computer (switching back and forth between Acrobat and your text file) but visually it is much easier to have the index skeleton printed out on paper (ideally with double line spacing), adding the page numbers to this and later transcribing them over to the text file.

As you can see, this uses the mind map to its fullest potential. The Acrobat search also allows you to find references that otherwise you might have overlooked. That said, this approach requires sophisticated and careful searching. For instance, in a study of nations and nationalism, if you only search for ‘nations’ then you won’t find ‘nation’ or ‘nationalism’ but doing a search on ‘nation’ might give you too many results to deal with. Better first to do a search on ‘nationali’ (to pick up ‘nationalism’, ‘nationalist’ ‘nationalistic’, etc.) then search for text often related to this term (like ‘ethno’) to find other entries.

In short, this can be a quick indexing method with the potential to give poor results but if used properly is a very powerful and fast tool. For this reason, it is the indexing method that I personally favour – also because its combination of broad-brush and nitty-gritty approach fits my temperament. This is the method best suited to impatient perfectionists.

Mark-up method

The mark-up method involves entering indexing tags in the book file itself.  It requires 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 marking up process can be as slow a task as the traditional method (thought, again, much faster if you have prepared a coloured mind map in advance). However, when completed, the resulting index is instantly generated and with luck should not need a lot of adjustment. Index generation can even be re-run repeatedly in conjunction with adjusting the tagged entries until the index is perfect.

This indexing method has the virtue that you can regenerate the index as many times as you want until the results are perfect. Moreover, it is the best method to use if suddenly the pagination of your book is to be changed; this ‘merely’ needs to be reflected in the pagination of your base text file. Unfortunately, adjustments to index entries can be tedious. For instance, to divide a large number of single-level entries into groups of two-level entries requires that every single entry is manually updated to the new format. This is not something you want to do too much of. As such, this is the method best suited to organized, methodical people who already have the structure of the index perfectly clear in their mind beforehand (i.e. they have done some sort of mind map).

Quick and dirty method

My last method I call ‘quick and dirty’ but in reality it is not quick; perhaps ‘fast road to hell’ would be a better title. The version I know is done in MS Word but I know you can do the same in WordPerfect; quite possibly other word processors have the same feature.

Again, this requires that you have a single text file as your reference source (see above). What you then do is 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 (even weeks) 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. Bluntly put, only serial losers would use this method a second time.

And there’s more

No doubt there are other ways of indexing a book but these four are the most common. Of course, an issue only touched on here is how your index is structured; this needs to be settled before you can start using one of these methods. Likewise, you must decide on exactly what you are going to index. These (and more) are topics for upcoming posts in this thread on indexing. (Just when I post these is uncertain as I’ll be travelling these next three weeks.)

(Post #6 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series 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.)


7 Responses to Indexing methods

  1. […] about creating this mind map is a variant of the first and second indexing methods described in my next post, i.e. involving that […]

  2. […] A substantially revised treatment of this subject can be found here.) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)When to start on the index?Who should do the […]

  3. Susan Cohen says:

    The best way is to hire a professional book indexer to create the index for you. The indexer will use the traditional method of actually reading the book to pick out all the important words and concepts. He or she will have special software that will allow the creation of the index itself in any format necessary. And the index will be done quickly and accurately.

  4. neeraj verma says:

    These methods are very useful for me… I take these topic in my leacture

  5. abhishek hr says:

    These method useful for me i can get imformation from this

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