What’s a book index and why does it matter? Take a look at indices, how they came to be, and the people who make them possible.
A book index may appear to be a relic of the past in the age of smartphones and ebooks. Having said that, many researchers and readers still rely on book indexes to help them navigate large books and conduct research.
Book indexing is an important job that professional book indexers perform on a daily basis.
Meaning of a Book Index
A back-of-the-book index is a list of words with page references that direct readers to specific topics within a book. Indexes are typically an alphabetical list of topics, with subheadings appearing beneath multi-faceted topics that appear repeatedly throughout a book.
Most nonfiction research books include book indexes in addition to elements such as the front matter and table of contents. Indexes are frequently outsourced to freelancers who work in the publishing industry as technical writers or in other capacities.
The American Society for Indexing is a national trade organization that advocates for consistent indexing standards for books and technical writing.
Purpose of a Book Index
A good index should first and foremost assist readers in finding topics within the main text of a book, as well as reference any related terms.
A good index should be comprehensive and easy to understand. Professional indexers are adept at creating comprehensive indexes that are easy to navigate for both casual readers and researchers.
What Kinds of Books are Indexed?
In general, indices have been included at the back of any nonfiction books that broadly fall under the research category, which means they are less likely to appear in nonfiction books such as memoirs or narrative nonfiction.
While there are no hard and fast rules regarding which books receive indices, a general rule is to consider how the average reader will use the book, and then it is up to the author and publishing company whether one is included.
If the book is a textbook or other reference text, it will almost certainly have an index, but indices can also be found in works such as cookbooks or coffee table books, which are more commonly used for leisure reading.
The index’s purpose is to provide the reader with an easy way to refer to specific sections of text or information, and it can also be used to quickly locate images or tables included in the book.
To make this experience easier, some books may have an entirely separate index for images, maps, or other aspects of the text.
How to Write an Index
Being a book indexer is a difficult job that requires attention to detail. Creating an entire index can be a difficult task, but it requires little more than a word processor and a strong work ethic.
Indie authors or self-publishers may choose to create indexes for their own book or books. If you’re just getting started as an indexer, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you understand the process:
1. Study the Book
The first step may seem obvious, but it is critical to read through any book thoroughly before beginning the indexing process.
If you’ve already read the book casually, you should read it through completely while indexing.
2. Make Use of Indexing Software
On basic word processors, there are numerous good indexing software programs available.
It’s a good idea to use indexing software to make the process easier, especially if you’re new to indexing.
3. Mark up the Book
You must mark up the text as you look for key terms and possible section headings, whether you are using a hard copy or reading an ebook or pdf.
Make a list of all the topics you intend to include in the index and keep track of similar entries on index cards or in a computer document.
4. Address Formatting Questions
Before you begin writing the index entries, consider how you will format cross-references and page numbers.
Looking at other indexes and talking with peers can expose you to different styles and help you figure out what you prefer.
A style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, will frequently include guidelines for the formatting and layout of a book index.
5. Create Index Entries
It’s time to make your index after you’ve read through the main text thoroughly and taken copious notes on your main headings and subheadings.
Check that everything you’ve marked in your text is included in your final index and that you’re using a consistent style.
6. Sort Your Index Entries
All indexes are alphabetically sorted, so make sure your entries are in alphabetical order.
7. Edit Your Index
After you’ve completed the first draft of your index, it’s time to start copyediting.
Before submitting your final index, double-check that there is no redundancy in subentries and subheadings and that nothing has been left out.
In summary, the major aim of the book index is to assist the reader in quickly and easily finding information. As a result, you must keep it as simple and professional as possible. Make things easy for your book reader.