Indexing methods

11 March 2010

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.)

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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.)


Final proofs

5 March 2010

Once the text is completely stable, and any illustrations have been sized and inserted, the typesetter paginates the book and produces a second (and hopefully final) set of proofs for checking. In urgent circumstances, it is not unknown for authors to receive only a single set of paginated proof pages, but two proof stages are more common. At the same time, you should get a proof of the finalized cover.

Page-proof checklist

However, the second (paginated) proofs are not yet another opportunity to check your text; by now, as we have seen, your production editor will be pretty intolerant of ‘unnecessary’ changes. While you should keep an eye open for any errors in the text not previously spotted, at this stage the things that you should be focusing on are quite different. Now, you should check that:

  • All corrections marked on the first proofs have been correctly implemented.
  • All figures, illustrations, captions, tables, etc. are placed where they belong (or in close proximity to this).
  • Any illustrations look as they should (in terms of quality, size, colour, orientation, etc.).
  • All footnotes (if used) are placed on the correct page.
  • Chapter titles in the table of contents match those in the text, not only in wording but also in upper or lower case. (The same applies for figure captions, etc.)
  • Chapter titles in the running heads match (or are reasonable short forms of) the real chapter titles.
  • Page numbers stated in the table of contents, list of figures, etc. are correct.
  • Any ‘hard’ cross-references (like ‘see overleaf’, ‘see page 43’, etc.) are correct.
  • Pagination of the book is consecutive (with numbering of the preliminary pages as a separate series using roman numbering).

Of course, any corrections and other changes to these proofs should be marked up as discussed in my earlier post.

Proofing the cover

I have already discussed finalization of the cover in quite some detail elsewhere. Suffice to say here that what you should be seeing now is not some cover concept or even a well-developed draft but the final version. As such, you will need to be proofing not only for errors but also omissions (a promised photo credit in tiny type on the back cover, for instance).

Given the central importance of the cover, it is wise to take special care on the cover proof.

Avoiding the errata slip

Publishers hate having to insert an errata slip in a book, not least because it is time-consuming, expensive and unnecessary (and because it is an open admission that the proofing of that book was inadequate – not a good look).

As such, because this is likely to be your last chance to check the entire book (see below), be rigorous with your proofing. This means, too, that you should look at the whole book – both inside pages and cover – making sure that everything is right. (This is especially relevant because the cover and inside pages are usually produced by different people.) Otherwise you may end up disappointed when holding your wonderful new book in your hands and discovering a silly mistake.

This is what happened to one of our authors a few years back. The title page she delivered for editing had an old subtitle. There was nothing wrong with this (hence it survived the editing and typesetting unscathed); it was simply the wrong subtitle. The new subtitle appeared on the cover of her book and in all sorts of marketing material. It was also the one that was registered in various bibliographic databases.

Unfortunately, neither the author nor anyone at the press noticed the minor discrepancy in subtitle wording until after the book was published. She requested an errata slip. Fair enough, but I was not amused.

Making a ‘right-brain’ assessment

In addition, at this stage it would be a good idea to flip through the book looking at each double-page spread (easiest done in Acrobat or Adobe Reader) and analysing the layout in a more ‘right-brain’ fashion. Are the pages balanced and aesthetically pleasing? Do the page bottoms line up? Do you like what you see?

Of course, it may be dumb me suggesting that you do this ‘right-brain’ assessment now as there is no way that either the typesetter or your production editor will contemplate major design changes at such a late stage. The time for such feedback should have been at the time of the first proofs or even earlier in the design phase (if you were consulted, that is. The whole issue of what you can and cannot expect to change at the proofing stage is discussed in detail here.)

That said, it is your book, your child. If you don’t care about how it is dressed, who else will? And what will your readers think if, when they encounter your book, they are distracted by its appearance and maybe even fail to take it seriously?

A wee bit of assertiveness with your publisher doesn’t harm once in a while.

Finalizing the proofing process

As with the first proofs, your job is to indicate any changes required either on the proofs or in a separate document, returning these (or a message that there are no changes) to your production editor. Usually, there is great pressure for this to be done quite quickly. As before, make sure that you retain a copy of these proofs.

At this stage, however, and before you return the proofs to your publisher, you may have an extra task to complete: preparing an index. If there are minimal changes to these second proofs, then it is normal that they are used for the indexing (that is, if it is the author doing the indexing); this saves time. More about this in my next post, which starts a new section of the production process looking at indexing.

And, as far as you are concerned, that is (almost) the end of the proofing process. (‘Almost’ because you should get a chance to see the typeset index and maybe even the whole book again after any second-proof changes have been implemented.) From now on, you will take a back seat as far as the production process is concerned. More proofing will be done but this will be by (or at the behest of) your production editor; as noted earlier, it is unlikely you will be involved.

Time then (after the indexing) to move on with your life. Indeed, already by now, you may need to start refocusing your attention on the promotion of your book. But that is another story.

(Post #9 of the Proofing section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)


Use of cross-references

5 February 2010

It should go without saying that the pagination of your manuscript will never match that of the finished typeset book. This means that you cannot insert actual page numbers in any cross-references within the text. Instead, you should refer to entities like ‘Chapter 3’ or ‘Table 5.1’.

Indeed, although a few well-placed cross-references can be useful, they should only be used where there is a significant benefit to the reader. Having to flick backwards and forwards through the book may be OK once in a while but more than that is annoying.

Moreover, cross-references can be counter-productive. All too often, they distract your readers, taking them off on wild-goose chases to remote regions of your text. The danger is that your readers will lose the thread of your argument or, worse, lose patience altogether with your text, perceiving it to be badly structured.

Finally, remember that cross-references can be plain wrong. There is a risk that the text that you are referring to has been moved – or even deleted.

In other words, handle with care.

(Post #17 of the Design & Typesetting section of a lengthy series on the book production process, the first post of which is here.)