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An Appreciation for Indexing

Laura A Lacey22 January 2013

By Stacey Riley, an Aspiring Agent

Did you assume that indexes were computer generated? Me too!

This week the UCL MA Publishing class was given a talk by guest speaker Ann Kingdom from the Society of Indexers. She delivered an interesting and detailed presentation on how an index and indexers work.

Indexing is one of the final stages of the production process and indexers are often squeezed for time, having to produce their work under pressure. Ann defines an index as being ‘a structured sequence – resulting from a thorough and complete analysis of text – of synthesised access points to all the information contained in the text.’ It is this ‘thorough and complete analysis of the text’ t
Ideally, an indexer should be familiar with the subject of the book he or she is working on. Indexers often have high academic qualifications or industry experience in the specialised area. They are required to read the text and, using their skills and knowledge, decide what to index and what terms to use. Unlike a full-text search, which retrieves too much information, an index tells you the most important references and indicates which aspect of the topic is dealt with. Indexers also bring together synonyms and metonyms used in the text.hat requires human intellect and decision making that a computer isn’t (yet?) capable of.

The decisions made by the indexer have to fulfil users’ needs. For example, they might have to consider which is more user friendly: ‘strings’ or subheadings.

Clegg, Nick 110–112, 115–116, 120–125, 126, 135–144, 150, 152, 159, 165–172, 187


Clegg, NickSociety of Indexers: Information from A to Z education 110–112, 115–116
family background 120–125, 152
language skills 126, 150
as MEP 135–139
as MP 140–144
as party leader 165–172, 187
television appearances 140, 159, 166, 171

They may also be required to edit their index, whether this is because of limited page allowance for the index specified by the publisher, or because the index is not as efficient as it could be. The above entry, for example, could be edited to combine subheadings as below:

Clegg, Nick
education 110–12, 115–16
family background 120–5, 152
language skills 126, 150
political career 135–44, 165–72, 187
TV appearances 140, 159, 166, 171

Ann also gave out some examples of ‘how not to do an index’. This included one that was simply an alphabetical list of every recipe that appeared in a soup cookbook – and, as a result, wasn’t very useful. If you had a particular ingredient you wanted to use, you would have to read through the entire list to see which soups contained that ingredient.

Additionally, Ann also mentioned the occurrence of circular referencing in some indexes. For example:

Geese, wild see wild geese
Wild geese see geese, wild

This too is of no use to the user, apart from creating a bit of humour!

For more information, see the Society of Indexers’ website and The Indexer: The international Journal of Indexing