Indexing FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Why have an index?

An index provides access points into your document (book, publication, etc.). Although the contents page may provide as many as a few dozen entry points, an index provides hundreds of access points making your work more accessible, and therefore more useful, to more people. Rather than reading it through once only it can become a reference work that readers will want on their shelves.

Purchasers will often look in the index to check how a topic is covered when deciding whether to buy a book. Reviewers use the index to see what is included and, if the index is poor or non-existent, it may be disparagingly mentioned in the review. (Sadly, good indexes are very rarely mentioned.) Libraries and schools also regard the index as important when selecting books.


Is there a program which will produce an index automatically for me?

Indexing software performs the mechanical layout tasks for an indexer in the same way as word processing programs perform the mechanical layout tasks for an author. It cannot perform the linguistic analysis because of the complexities of language, particularly English. (For examples of the problems, see here). Nevertheless, index formatting software can save considerable time and ensure consistency. The most widely used indexing software is MACREX, with a fully featured demo version which allows creation of a 300 entry index. Some word processors do have features to create indexes automatically but these work around full text searches (see below).


What is a ‘quality’ index?

It is possible to produce a concordance type index, using word searches. These have problems, see What is wrong with full text searches…, and must be regarded only as aids to the user in their search for information, pointing them in the right direction. A quality index will actually take the user directly to the answer.

In some situations a full text search or low quality index may be acceptable – for my CD collection, for example, I am happy to use a search in a spreadsheet: it is easily updated, for only occasional use and I always have plenty of time when consulting it. For an index in the back of a book, however, user needs will be varied and once published the index cannot be changed – it is only prudent to provide the best possible index and make the book as useful to as many people as possible.


How do I produce a quality index?

  • To produce an index, examine closely every part of the document, line by line, and decide what an index user might possibly want to look up for it to be helpful to them to be directed to this portion of text.
  • Add in cross-reference entries which are helpful to the user.
  • Sort and collate all these resulting index entries into the format with which most people are familiar, following the rules and recommendations as defined by the international standard ISO 999 and any specific standards relevant to the region in which the book is to be published. In addition, your publisher may have standards of their own, with which you must comply, to make your book match their other publications. Using specialist indexing software to help with this stage, can save considerable time and ensure consistency. The most widely used indexing software is MACREX, available here with a fully featured demo version which allows creation of a 300 entry index.
  • The resulting index must then be edited, to make it consistent throughout, and, quite possibly, reducing it in length to fit the space allotted to it in the publication.


Why use a professional indexer?

Producing the index requires a good understanding of the subject matter of the document; good linguistic knowledge to be able to choose index terms well; knowledge of the rules and standards of index production; and close attention to detail. While the author will have the best knowledge of the document they may be so familiar with it they find it difficult to see how it might be approached by a less knowledgeable reader. They may well not be practised at indexing and it is difficult to get a good result on one’s first attempt.
A professional indexer will have the necessary subject knowledge (or they will direct you to an indexer who has), knowledge of indexing practices and standards and will use specialist software which will reduce the time required to produce the index and make later modifications easier.

Perhaps you would simply prefer to spend your time doing things other than indexing.

I would rather be dead than do it again.”

Bernard Levin after indexing his first book, quoted in The Indexer 14(2), 1984


What are the standards relevant to index production?

The main standards are:

  • ISO 999:1996 Information and documentation – Guidelines for the content, organization and presentation of indexes
    This International Standard is reproduced verbatim as BS ISO 999:1996 and is the UK national standard.
  • BS 1749:1985 British Standard Recommendations for Alphabetical arrangement and the filing order of numbers and symbols
    This British Standard gives recommendations for the alphabetical arrangement of entries in lists of all kinds. It covers the arrangement of numbers and symbols but does not include rules for the form of entries.

Copies of these standards may be obtained from British Standards Online

For others which may also be useful see the Indexing Resources page.

These standards provide guidelines which should be followed in the absence of other instructions, however many publishers have their own rules which must be used in order to maintain consistency with their other publications.


Why is it necessary to follow the standards?

The standards spell out the rules which indexes must follow in order to be intuitive. Most people would find it difficult to list the rules an index must follow but would be quick to recognise when an index is difficult to use.


How do I get a document indexed?

The text must be supplied to me at the final proof stage, preferably as a pdf, once the final page numbers have been assigned. I will supply the index in the format required by the publisher and I am happy to proofread the final index proofs.


What will it cost?

First, get a instant rough estimate from my Instant Quotation <here>.

Then, for an actual quote, based on a representative sample of your text, Request a Quotation <here>.


What subjects will you index?

I specialize in indexing Finance, Banking, Economics and Computing texts, aimed up to graduate level and beyond. I also index Classics, History, Religious texts, Photography and Astronomy.

I may index texts aimed at a general audience not requiring specialist knowledge. If I consider that I am not the right person to index your document I will recommend someone who is better qualified in that field.


Do you have professional indemnity insurance?

Given the nature of indexing, professional indemnity insurance is not usually considered necessary. If, however, for whatever reason, the client requires that I carry profession indemnity insurance then I will take insurance cover, providing £50,000 of cover, for an additional charge to the client of £200 per annum, paid with the client’s first index fee of that 12 month period.

Do you supply Camera Ready Copy?

Camera Ready Copy requires formatting the completed index to the precise requirements of the publisher. This will include:

  • laying out margins and columns exactly;
  • adding headers/footers containing appropriate text (running heads), and page numbers on the outside of the page;
  • applying correct fonts, font sizes, intercharacter spacing and interline spacing to each of the index headings and entries, with correct indentation and line wrapping;
  • adjusting subheadings so that they do not break over a page boundary;
  • adding in continuation texts where subheadings continue past a page boundary;
  • and, particularly for Indexes of Sources/Texts, adding in headings between sections which span multiple columns.

The result must then be delivered in a PDF which includes the fonts embedded and using the color schema appropriate to the press, usually CYMK rather than RGB.

This work is usually done by a typesetter. However, some publishers require that the author provides Camera Ready Copy. Indexers usually supply indexes unformatted. I charged a fee for supplying Camera Ready Copy.

Why does the schedule affect the price?

To make the numbers simple, let’s say that I can index, 100 pages per day and have currently scheduled a 500 page book for delivery in 2 weeks time, that’s 10 working days from now, then I have 50 pages scheduled per day:

50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50

If you then ask me to schedule your 500 page book for delivery in one week, then I can do that by shifting the work on Book One out to next week, still meeting the deadlines:

100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

But now I have no capacity left. When my higher paying client calls and asks me to do an urgent job, then I must turn them down and that is unhelpful for them.

However, if I schedule your job with a three week deadline:

50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50 50
33 33 34 33 33 34 33 33 34 33 33 34 33 33 34

Now, when my other client calls, I can do their urgent job too:

100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

Being able to accept a client’s short-date job solves problems for that client and makes them happy. Higher paying clients purchase more happiness.

So if you are paying the same rate as my other clients, then I can afford to schedule your short-date job. But lower price jobs must have longer deadlines to allow me to be responsive to my higher paying clients.



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