Formatting your index

8 April 2010

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.

xxxxacademic standard
xxxxsee also Cultural Issues; 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).


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’).


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.


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.)

When to start on the index?

9 March 2010

The typical index is done at the time of the second (final) proofs and usually under a great time pressure. Not surprisingly, the indexes produced by first-time authors (and indeed many more experienced authors) are not always of a high quality.

Your index could be better.

Avoiding the last-minute rush

Let’s be honest, producing a great index is much more than a matter of timing. As important (if not more so) is that you successfully handle the issues raised in my previous post – issues like structure and format that my following posts will discuss in greater detail. Nonetheless, timing is important; indexing need not be a last-minute affair.

After all, what is an index? Superficially, it is an alphabetical list of cross-references to material in your text, each 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 index, making its finalization a last-minute affair? Not the list of terms; theoretically, this could be devised before you even began writing your book. No, what’s holding everything up is having the correct page references – and there’s nothing you can do about that until your book is in its final, paginated form.

The secret to having a great index, then, is to ignore the lack of page numbers for now and to focus on all the other, more important issues. This means that you can start imagining the index much earlier than at the proofing stage, start even while writing your book.

Alternative approaches

There is a big advantage here if you do. It gives you time to create a mind map of your study and its index, if you so choose (more about mind maps in my next post).

Of course, you don’t have to create such a mind map. If you feel confident that the text sent for typesetting will change very little during the typesetting, you can instead simply start indexing your book straight after editing. To do so, all you need to do is create a single book file from the text in MS Word (or whichever word-processing program you use) and begin entering index tags. (This is indexing method 3, which I describe in much greater detail in my next post but one.)

That’s not all

Whichever approach you follow, you’ll need to bear in mind how much space you’ve got to play with, how the index is to be structured, etc., etc. – issues described in subsequent posts.

In the meantime, with a bit of breathing space before the index must be delivered, you actually may have time to enjoy its creation, time to unlock the intellectual puzzle of your study.

(Post #4 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here. This is a complete reworking of an earlier post on the same subject.)

Who should do the indexing?

8 March 2010

You. The big finger is pointing directly at you. Just as probably it was you who had to key the copy-editing changes, you who maybe got to help design the cover, and you who definitely had to do the proofing, so too is it you who’s now expected to index your book – and in double-quick time.


This need not be so. No one is forcing you, personally, to do the indexing. After all, this is skilled work and you may not feel up to the task.

You could instead hire Anthony, an indexer we’ve used on several occasions when the author was unwilling and had the cash to hire a professional. Anthony is reasonably priced (surely he cannot live off these earnings) and not only does he turn out good indexes but also – in effect and free of charge – he gives the book another proofing; tacked onto his indexes is a page or two of comments about errors and discrepancies that he’s found in the text. In short, a professional indexer like Anthony could be just what you need.

But maybe not.

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.

Definitely, this issue is something to think about carefully and to fully investigate in good time.

Hiring a professional indexer

If indeed you engage a professional indexer directly, then book a time slot early, and keep your indexer informed as the actual start date firms up. Most important, prepare a clear indexing brief that specifies what you want – issues such as these that will be covered in my following posts:

  • When will you deliver the proofs for indexing?
  • What is the indexer’s deadline for finishing the job?
  • What is the agreed price?
  • How long should the index be?
  • What should be indexed?
  • Is it only one index required or several?
  • How many levels should it have?
  • How should the entries be formatted?
  • Are there any special considerations to note?

Doing the job yourself

If, however, you decide to do the job yourself, then prepare a clear indexing brief for yourself, too. You’ll also benefit from taking note of the other issues and advice found in my following posts.

And whatever else you do, do not skimp on the job. A poor index signals to the reader that this is an inferior book. Do not fail your book at this last hurdle, mere days before it goes to the printer.

(Post #3 of the Indexing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Image problems

2 February 2010

Perhaps I embarrassed you in my earlier post about unhelpful formatting. Sorry, I was actually trying to be (er) helpful.

But it is not only your text that must be delivered in a suitable format; so, too, must any illustrations. I briefly touched on this issue earlier with the cover design but essentially your image files must be usable – both readable and, for bit-mapped (rasterized) images, of a sufficient resolution (at least 300 dpi in its final dimensions).

If you are delivering any vector-based images, these of course can be scaled without problem (resolution is not the issue here). However, to avoid any readability problems for the typesetter, make sure that these images are in EPS format rather than the proprietary format for the software you use (most likely Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw), especially since these programs can save files in EPS format.

Image readability/suitability is something that most likely your production editor will check as a matter of routine but you will not want to make a last-minute confession to her about the key illustration in your book being unusable (it is so grainy, it looks as if it were made with Lego blocks).

Such horror pictures cannot be fixed (well, not satisfactorily). Neither your editor nor the typesetter is a magician; they cannot fix everything. More to the point, they have better things to do with their time.

As such, if you have images in need of a bit of time, love and care (and you cannot provide this yourself), then I suggest you find yourself a technically savvy friend to optimize your images to the highest quality before you deliver them to your publisher.

(Post #14 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)

Which word processor?

29 January 2010

Is your choice of word-processing program an issue? Yes, it is, as you will see.

That said, arguably, this shouldn’t be an issue that only attracts attention now, at the start of typesetting. Normally, your editor (or her staff) should have had her fingers all over your text file(s), especially if it is the press undertaking the editorial work. Even if the deal is that you are supposed to deliver ‘clean’ text ready for typesetting, your production editor should have been on the ball and checked your files.

No? Oh well, at least in terms of word processor, it is likely that no harm has been done – because, let’s face it, the vast majority of authors use Microsoft Word (meaning there shouldn’t be a problem in this respect).

To some scholars, of course, Microsoft is the evil empire and they wouldn’t touch Word even if Bill Gates offered them a space suit and the use of an over-length barge pole. Nor is it necessary as such to write your text as Word documents; there are very good word-processing alternatives available (not least WordPerfect, Nisus Writer and – a fast-growing open-source rival – OpenOffice Writer).

Whichever software you use, it need not be Word but it must be compatible with Word – this is what your publisher’s editorial staff are likely to be using; they have to be able to open (and maybe change) your text files. In other words, your text files must be able to be opened in Word.

The same restriction is likely to apply for the typesetting. For instance, Adobe InDesign only imports text in .doc, .docx, .rtf and .txt formats. This means that if you have written your book in (say) WordPerfect, Nisus Writer or OpenOffice Writer, then – in order for it to be imported into the typesetter’s book file(s) – you will have to save your text as a Word or RTF file (not as plain text; you could lose any italics and other character formatting with a .txt conversion).

No, this may not be fair. But for now, like it or not, Word remains the 20-tonne gorilla in the playground.

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